Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A couple weeks back I posted a link to the new Broken Bells interactive video. It was pretty diverting and a lot of fun to play around with, but pales in comparison to this new video from Arcade Fire.

Make sure you plug in your childhood address (or other address important to you), because the video will be staged there. Using Google Chrome technology and multiple pop-up windows, "The Wilderness Downtown," tracks a man running from some location to the address you put in, with Google's street view images as background. When the character comes running up your home street near the end, with trees popping up behind him, you almost expect to hear a knock at your door.

It's a pretty cool effect and something that I wish I had thought of first.

On a (somewhat, marginally) related note, here's another cool video (yes, it's a video - you can go ahead and click on it) from Broken Social Scene, featuring one of my favorite pop songs of this summer. Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mom!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Videos Worth Watching

John Coltrane wrote the song Alabama in response to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls between 11 and 14 years of age were killed. The song is patterned on Martin Luther King's funeral speech, Coltrane's playing mimicking the cadences of Dr. King's speech. Towards the end of the song, Elvin Jones's drumming rises from a whisper to a pounding rage, mirroring the transformation of King's speech from mourning into a statement of renewed determination for the struggle against racism. He wanted this crescendo to signify the rising of the civil rights movement.

On this weekend when media pundits and crowds of angry, white protesters will attempt to defile Dr. King's legacy, I offer you "Alabama" as a Video Worth Watching.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Get Mail . . .

Hi Shokai,

I am trying to practice mindfulness in my daily activities but somehow I end up feeling kind of robotic in doing so, like I am micromanaging every action of the day. Suggestions?

in gassho,
Dear A.,

I understand what you mean when you say that actively trying to practice mindfulness can get robotic. In fact, constantly repeating the mantra "I must be mindful. . . I must be mindful" can get in the way of mindfulness itself. In many aspects of our spiritual practice, trying to achieve a goal, be it mindfulness, compassion, or enlightenment, actually prevents us from attaining it.

When Zen Master Joshu was told that "Ordinary mind is the Way," he asked how to attain it. How can we be "ordinary?" He was told that trying to move toward it was actually moving away from it. Any self-conscious attempt to be "ordinary" is in fact anything but "ordinary." We can only achieve "ordinary-ness" by not trying to be "ordinary" and just acting naturally, without consideration of "right" or "wrong" actions.

So it is with mindfulness. While consciously examining ourselves and wondering "Am I being mindful?," "Am I being mindful now?," and "Can I be more mindful?," we step in front of a City bus (or similar but less catastrophic experience). To be mindful, we need to quiet our mind and be at rest and at peace, so that without the interference of noisy thought, we are receptive to our surroundings and activities.

This, obviously, is practiced in sitting meditation. With time, we can bring the still and quiet mind cultivated in meditation to our everyday activities, including work, play, relationships, etc., and practice this mindfulness in everyday life. But to force the process is, well, to force the process.

Mindfulness will eventually manifest itself in your daily life when it/you are ready. In the meantime, just keep an open mind and be confident that the practice of meditation will cultivate mindfulness. But to try to be mindful may be the least mindful thing you can do. This might sound counterintuitive, but we make great effort not to make great effort.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

Dear Shokai -

I do see your point about mindfulness (or any other focal point of practice). I think for me I have trouble (and discomfort) with non-action, like I feel like I have to be doing something constantly (in this case, doing mindfulness). I have been quite surprised at how difficult it has been for me to simply sit in zazen. My monkey mind is quite strong and active.

much thanks,
Dear A.,

Your trouble and discomfort is sitting still is pretty universal. Even though many appear to be quite still and serene on the outside while sitting, the internal turmoil is not visible to the eye. The monkey mind is indeed strong and active. It probably applies to monkeys as well, but it's been said that there are two ways to train a wild mustang - beat it into submission, or just let it rebel and gallop around until it finally tires out and submits. In Soto Zen practice, we choose the latter strategy. Instead of doing something to quiet the mind, we just sit and observe it as it churns and gyrates. Try not to engage the thoughts, but don't try to suppress them either. With time, the mind will naturally quiet down and at that moment, mindfulness can arise.

Using another analogy, Zen Master Dogen once asked if you're in an ox-driven cart and want to move faster, do you beat the ox or beat the cart? In this analogy, the ox represents the mind (the intention to move toward the destination) and the cart represents the body (the vehicle in which we move through life). In everyday activities, we achieve our objectives by beating the ox - setting our priorities, selecting our goals, and anticipating the rewards of achieving those goals. That's what Dogen calls beating the ox. But in Zen practice, we achieve our spiritual objectives by beating the cart, that is, using the body. More specifically, by forcing the body into a sitting meditation posture and maintaining that still, quiet posture despite the body's objections. By "beating" the body (cart), the mind eventually settles. Beating the ox (mind), just makes the ox more active.

In everyday, secular life, we set goals and objectives for ourselves and try to reach those goals and objectives by imagining the rewards. In spiritual practice, we need to let go of our goals and objectives, be they calmness, mindfulness, or even enlightenment, and just practice in the moment solely for the sake of practice and without consideration of our goals and objectives. Mindfulness will arise naturally when we stop trying to be mindful.

This is why a week-long retreat is good. We push our bodies to their physical limits and sit still for as long as we can, beating that cart toward the destination.

in gassho,


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Fall and It's Aftermath

As I previously posted, there's always been a bittersweet aspect to The Swell Season's music. Part of the group's appeal was the romantic chemistry between co-founders Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, as documented in the semi-biographical film, Once. However, Hansard and Irglová split up as a couple back in January 2009, although they continued to perform together in the band, producing a poignant yet mature body of songs exploring love and its aftermath.

At least until a man jumped to his death during one of their concerts in California last Thursday, landing on an on-stage speaker just a few feet from Hansard.

Now Hansard and Irglová have announced that their musical careers will take them their separate ways, at least for a brief period of time. Although The Swell Season will continue to perform concerts in Europe through this fall, Hansard told Spinner.com, "This band will eventually naturally end." The Frames, Hansard's original band, have recently announced a handful of upcoming concerts, and Irglová may be recording a solo album.

Update: The next day, Glen Hansard posted a Twitter message saying, "If anyone is going to announce the end of The Swell Season, it'll be us. Forget what anyone else says. . . We're not breaking up. . ." So I guess I'll stop writing about this story, at least until the smoke clears.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is getting weird: The day after a fan fatally leaped onto the stage at a Swell Season performance, Charles Haddon, the lead singer on English synth-pop band Ou Est Le Swimming Pool, apparently committed suicide by leaping off of a telecommunication tower behind the main stage immediately after his performance at a festival in Belgium. The day before, the Thursday of the Swell Season tragedy, Michael Been, frontman for the U.S. group The Call, died of an apparent heart attack at the same festival while working as the soundman for his son's band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

The heart attack is merely a coincidence, but three leaping incidents in a little over a week (a Phish concert at Jones Beach, a Swell Season concert in California, and the Haddon suicide in Belgium) is a disturbing trend, and one to which I cannot fathom any link or reason.

Before the Swell Season concert at the Portland Zoo, their first show after the on-stage suicide in California, Glen Hansard wrote on the band's web page, "Making and performing music is what the band has always done in good times and in bad. Our hope is that in this communal experience tonight we can somehow help our own grieving process after what we just witnessed. The show will most certainly be different than any other we have ever played. We wish to continue to be sensitive to family and friends of this individual and hope that in performing it is not viewed as a selfish act. We have not come to this decision lightly. We continue to have them at the forefront of our minds and hearts."

For the record, due to rain alternating with hot and humid weather, I did not go to yesterday's "No-Name" festival at Atlanta's Goat Farm. As far as I know, no one leaped off of anything during the concert. As the picture above implies, I spent most of today practicing Zen with the Chattanooga sangha.

Friday, August 20, 2010


I'm saddened to learn that last evening in Saratoga, California, a man jumped to his death during a concert by The Swell Season, landing on an on-stage speaker just a few feet from singer Glen Hansard. Oddly, the night before at Jones Beach in New York, a man jumped from the mezzanine during a Phish concert, surviving the fall onto the seats below and fortunately missing any other concert-goers (he's listed as being in "critical but stable condition").

On his Twitter account, Hansard wrote,
"We can't really say too much about it, because we don't even know his name, or whether his family have been informed, it was a terrible shock. To everyone at the concert, my sympathies are with his family and friends and specially to the children and adults in the audience who had to witness such a tragic thing. Thankfully nobody else got hurt. We will let you know more when we do. We will play our concert tonight, and hopefully move on and continue our tour. This was a deeply tragic event that we and all who were there last night will remember forever. But ultimately, we have to move on. We're all ok. We talked all night and decided we must go on. If this was a suicide, then we can only send him light and move on. . . Our deepest sympathies go to him and all who witnessed this. Glen"
The band is scheduled to play at the Portland Zoo Amphitheater tonight, and then at the aptly named "No Depression Festival" in Redmond, Washington on Saturday.

There's always been a bittersweet aspect to The Swell Season's music. Part of the group's appeal was the romantic chemistry between Hansard and co-founder Markéta Irglová, documented in the semi-biographical film, Once. Although they split up as a couple in January 2009, they decided to still continue to perform together in the band, producing a poignant yet mature cycle of songs exploring love and its aftermath. After last night's tragedy, it remains to be seen how this sad event will affect them and their music, and how much a part it will be in their on-going story.

We can only speculate about what the jumper's motives were and if he was influenced by the Jones Beach incident of the night before.

In 1854, days before he died at the age of 59, the Japanese poet Ichimu wrote:

A broken dream -
where do they go
the butterflies?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Roman Photos, Memoryhouse, Twin Sister At The Earl, Atlanta

Back on March 5, I posted some vids as part of my Friday Night Videos series by a few of my favorite bands of that moment: Twin Sister, Broken Bells, Josh Rouse, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Since the time of that post, I've seen Josh Rouse (May 22), Broken Bells (June 10), and Edward Sharpe (July 11), and last night I saw Twin Sister.

I normally don't like to go out and see bands on a Tuesday night. I'm an old man, and frankly, they just play too late for me to get up refreshed for work the next day. And on top of that, I had to not only attend, but chair, the meeting of the alliance of neighborhood associations between the time I get off work and the time the concert was scheduled to start. But when I saw Twin Sister was playing with Memoryhouse, another band that I like, I figured that I had to go.

(Alternately, here's a more disturbing reason that I went: having already blogged about seeing the other three bands from the March 5 post, did I go just for the blogging rights to say that I was there?)

Whatever. After work, I stopped home to change and feed the cats and then rushed off to the alliance meeting. After the meeting, I hopped back in the car and drove over to The Earl in East Atlanta Village and got there in enough time to eat a chesseburger at the bar before the show started. By 8:45, I was in the club (actually, just the back room of The Earl) and the first band hadn't even started yet.

The first band was a local act, Roman Photos, who seem to be still looking for their sound, but nonetheless occasionally stumbled into some interesting riffs. In the indie rock aesthetic, it doesn't matter it you play well or not, as long as you're at least interesting.

Toronto's Memoryhouse, the next band on the bill, was most certainly interesting and consistently so, and they were good musicians to boot. Memoryhouse are Evan Abeele, a student of classical music, and singer Denise Nouvion. On tour, Adrian Vieni rounds out their sound with extra guitar and bass. Together, they produce shimmery, echo-laden dreampop beneath Denise's crooning vocals. What sets them apart from the boatload of other dreampop bands is they incorporate video into their live performance, playing in front of a screen showing in-and-out-of-focus clips of beaches, evocative smiling faces, and a girl's hair catching the sunlight. The videos are a lot like that in the Twin Sister promo above - in fact, I strongly suspect that the same photographer is responsible for both.

You can download a great mixtape set by Memoryhouse here. The mix includes Brian Eno's Through Hollow Lands, and the spirit of Eno is ever present just beneath the surface of their art. Here's my obligatory treated photograph of them playing at The Earl, Denise lost in reverie before the silver screen:

Long Island's Twin Sister didn't take the stage until after 11:30, but they were worth the wait. Their music's been described as '80s delay-pedal shimmery-ness with nods to '70s muted-fretboard soft rock soul, as well as a pastoral folk thing going on. Basically, dreamy and beautiful stuff. Lead singer Andrea Estella sings in a whispery ruffle of a voice that enchants you the moment you hear it - it's so quiet and yet so confident that you find it hard to believe she can sustain the spell for a whole set (she can and does). The band plays well behind her, blending genres from art-rock to shoegaze to new wave.

Twin Sister necessarily plays quietly for a rock band so that Andrea's vocals aren't lost in the mix, and the sound man at The Earl did a good job with their mix last night. The band waited until the middle of their set to play "All Around And Away We Go," one of my favorite songs of theirs that sounds like something Blondie might have recorded back in her day and a cut that's generating a lot of internet enthusiasm.

Speaking of enthusiasm, the audience really got into the set, surprising the band by clapping along during some of the more ambient moments, and engaging in a lot of playful, adoring two-way stage banter ("No, you're awesome").

But despite the enthusiasm, the audience didn't call them back for an encore, the second time in a row I've seen an Earl audience fail to do so (last time was at Here We Go Magic). Still, Andrea hung around on stage and talked with the audience, and even showed us some of her tattoos (a Winnie The Pooh tableau across her shoulder blades).

Both Memoryhouse and Twin Sister met or exceeded my expectations, and I still love the fact that I can go on a weeknight and see some earnest bands play near-ambient pop in the back room of a neighborhood bar. How cool is that?

For the record and those of you keeping score at home, I got home a little after 12:30 and went straight to bed. I felt fine the next morning (if not a little elated).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Night Zazen

Wet with the morning dew,
the tips of ten thousand grasses
all contain the light of day.
- John Daido Loori (1931-2009)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

According to Harvard University Professor of Psychology Daniel Todd Gilbert, the human mind systematically and routinely misjudges certain types of threats. More specifically, years of evolution have hard-wired our brains to recognize certain, very specific types of threats. While useful for the natural selection of our early hominid ancestors, this hard wiring comes at the expense of not recognizing some other types of threats.

The first type of threats that we instinctively respond to is those that are personal and intentional. We are ever vigilant and alert to predators and potential enemies, such as wolves and competitors with big clubs. This is why our attention goes into hyper-drive when we see a snake in the woods, or why we experience such a primal response when we encounter aggressive behavior.

The second type of threat to which we're hard-wired to react surprised me. We instinctively respond to threats that we perceive as immoral or disgusting. Of course, what's "immoral or disgusting" is usually an evil in the eye of the beholder and doesn't necessarily relate to survival, so those types of threats don't seem like things that natural selection would favor. But this is exactly why people react so emotionally to the sexual practices of others, even those that are done in private and don't affect any one else (evil's apparently in the hole of the behinder). I think the roots of a lot of intolerance can be found in this tendency of mind.

Finally, it has been shown that we respond strongly to those threats that are imminent and require immediate action, and conversely, we are not at all sensitive to threats that are gradual and don't require immediate action. It seems that procrastination is built into our defense system.

These tendencies of mind may explain why we are blind-sided by climate change, as well as how we react to the warnings about climate change. Global warming is, if anything, non-personal (it affects all of us) and non-intentional (no one's releasing greenhouse gases to deliberately change the climate). It's no wonder that we don't react to our planet being on figurative fire than we do to our house being on fire. And climate-change deniers have called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," and the product of some sort of vaguely socialist plot. In other words, they've come to consider the other side of the so-called debate ("so-called" because the debate is political, not scientific) as immoral and disgusting. Just ask a denier what they think about Al Gore and you'll see what I mean.

So even though we have the necessary intelligence and science to be cognizant of the danger ahead of us, we're not wired to perceive as a threat. It doesn't resonate with us the same as, say, illegal immigrants and terrorists (enemies with big clubs), or gay marriage and drug use (immoral and disgusting behavior).

It's the "gradual" part that might finally wake us up. Every time a new study comes out, it seems that predictions of the timing of events are even more imminent. This summer's heat waves and floods are starting to manifest an immediate threat impacting literally millions of people, and this imminent and immediate emergency may finally spur us on to action.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

So how is it that we can read that every four days, Moscow suffers the equivalent number of deaths from extreme heat and unhealthy smog as the US experienced during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and yet we don't react the same way? I doubt the lack of outrage is due to the three extra days. And while some of the numbness may be due to the lack of first-hand experience - it's something happening "over there," not here - our reaction to the kidnapping and slaughter of innocent schoolchildren by Chechen terrorists back in 2004 did not feel as remote.

I think our lack of reaction is due to the way our brains are wired. As primates, we're instinctively programmed to react to aggression and personal attacks, like most mammals. When the danger is caused not by our own kind or some other enemy that can be easily identified, our neurons don't fire the same way and we tend to tolerate, or at least ignore, the threat.

Global warming is a more abstract and vague threat than say, global terrorism or illegal immigration, yet we can now see how it's causing far more damage and death than the other two combined, and yet we don't react. Congress can't find the will to pass meaningful climate legislation; world leaders can't agree on a meaningful treaty to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And yet nations go to war when a small group of terrorists commandeer a plane or a schoolhouse or a diesel van.

But the calamities we're seeing around the world now may represent a tipping point in our perceptions. I'll tell you who is now motivated to deal with climate change - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, that's who. Speaking at a Russian Security Council Meeting, Medvedev said, "Everyone is talking about climate change now. Unfortunately, what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past. This means that we need to change the way we work, change the methods that we used in the past."

Of course, while climate change does not cause any particular single event, everything from the record heat in Russian and the US, to the worst flooding in almost a century in South Asia, to continued Arctic sea ice melting - we're well on our way to setting a new second-lowest minimum of sea ice coverage this summer - are all consistent with the predicted overall effects of climate change. Already this summer, 17 nations have set or matched their all-time heat records, including the all-time highest temperature for Pakistan (128 degrees F) and possibly all of Asia.

The only good thing that might possibly come out of all the death and misery and flooding and crop losses from this summer's heat is that it might finally activate our simian minds enough that we start to take some action. I can only hope that Medvedev's commitment to action doesn't cool off as the temperatures do, and that other leaders follow his lead.

Are you listening, Obama?

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's Still Hot

This photograph may look familiar from a couple weeks ago, but it was actually taken today with the intention of saying . . . it's still 102 degrees (39 degrees C) outside! It's been this hot for about two months now.

I'll grant you I live in Georgia where it's expected to be hot, but at least here in Atlanta, summer temperatures are usually only in the low to mid 90s. Unfortunately, the humidity is also usually in the high to mid 90s as well (percent), so it can feel plenty warm, but this year the temperatures have been hovering around or above the 100 mark, and that difference has been noticeable. I can't remember it being this hot for this long in the nearly 30 years since I first moved here.

But I really shouldn't complain. I understand that the heat wave in Moscow, combined with smog from forest fires, is causing nearly 700 deaths a day. Imagine a disaster equivalent to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers every four days. Not even in all of Russia, but just in Moscow alone. It's been called the hottest summer in Russia in not 100, not even 500, but 1,000 years. And the latest news suggests that now the country's wilted wheat crop may fail.

Meanwhile, heavier-than-average monsoons combined with melting glaciers have resulted in flooding in Pakistan that has killed over 1,500 people and displaced some 8 percent of the country's population. One third of the nation, an area the size of Great Britain, is currently underwater. Meanwhile, over in adjacent India, headlines are reading "Punjab Is Drowning."

In Greenland, an iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken away from the icefield, the largest iceberg to break off since 1962. 2010 is on track to be the hottest year ever. NOAA has already confirmed that March, April, May and June have each set records, making the first half of 2010 the warmest such period worldwide since record-keeping began in 1880.

But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. If you live anywhere on this planet and have been outside since March, you've probably noticed by now that it's hot.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

This Is Fun

The new video from Broken Bells is both interactive and in 3D. Click here to check it out for yourself, and be sure to move your mouse around the screen as it plays.

I saw Broken Bells play at Center Stage back on June 10 with The Morning Benders. I posted a video of one of their songs, The Ghost Inside, in my review of that show, and I also posted another Broken Bells video here (The High Road) back in March, if you still need to catch up.

Oh, and Arcade Fire will be on Jon Stewart tonight, fresh from last night's gig here in Atlanta (I didn't go).

Finally, here's a widget featuring some Josh Rouse songs. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen, or better yet, download the free EP (and then go and buy El Turista!).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You may not have heard, but even though half-term governor and Fox News personality Sarah Palin inserted herself into Georgia politics and campaigned on behalf of a fellow "mama grizzly" for governor here, her candidate lost the run-off election yesterday. Although the contest was close with only 2,500 votes separating the two candidates, Karen Handel had beaten Nathan Deal in the primary by 11 points. Her Palin-supported loss in the run-off can only be considered an epic collapse, a sign that even redneck Georgia is getting sick and tired of Queen Sarah and her Tea Party nonsense.

Not that I'm entirely happy about the outcome. The victor, Nathan Deal, is an ethically challenged disgraced former Congressman with extremely conservative views. During the campaign, Handel painted him as a "corrupt relic of Washington." And while Handel conceded to some limited abortion rights, at least in the case of rape and incest, and mildly supported some gay-rights issues, Deal is a staunch anti-choice advocate and is so virulently anti-gay that it makes you wonder if he doesn't have something to hide - it's probably just a matter of time before some sort of tawdry scandal breaks out around him.

Both Republican candidates damages each other's reputations during the run-off and a Libertarian candidate is still running for Governor to split the remaining conservative vote, so it looks like Georgia is going to send Democrat Roy Barnes back to the Governor's mansion this November.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Could there possibly be a greater time than today, right now, this very moment? This morning, I woke up to find the following poem in my inbox, an email from a member of the Chattanooga sangha.

In Zazen

Thoughts arise out of nothingness
And then fade back into nothingness.

Scents, Sounds, Sights, Tastes,
They all arise out of nothingness
And fade back into nothingness.
They no longer are distractions.

Delusions can be Dharma Gates
And the way to end them
Is to enter them.
When we enter them,
We realize nothing needs saving.

Everything, like thoughts,
Appear out of nothingness
Then fade back into nothingness.

Like thoughts,
We have our moment,
Then we fade back into nothingness.

Nothing is immune.
Mountains are not immune.
Oceans and Rivers are not immune.
Planets are not immune.
Galaxies are not immune.
Universes are not immune.
Life Itself is not immune.

Everything emerges out of nothing,
Has its moment of expression,
Then returns back to nothing.
Nothing wasted, since nothing is used.
Like a thought.

It's all a thought.

I hold up my hand
And listen,
As the sound of one hand
Fades back into nothingness.

A thought arises:
This thing that breathes
Cannot be found.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Review: Living Rooms, Beach Fossils & Here We Go Magic at The Earl, Atlanta, August 6, 2010

This evening, I went to The Earl in East Atlanta Village for my monthly dose of live music. The last time I was at The Earl, a nice little neighborhood bar that just so happens to have a room in the back that consistently books good music, was to see Owen Pallett, who coincidentally joined Arcade Fire on stage during last night's webcast show at Madison Square Garden. The Spoon/Arcade Fire tour that played MSG last night comes to Atlanta on August 11, a week night, and I doubt that I will go - the 11th promises to be a particularly busy day in a particularly busy week, and I won't likely have the time (or energy) to rock out at an outdoor amphitheater on a sultry, summer weeknight.

Tonight's show, however, opened with a set by Living Rooms. The band apparently is in a transitional phase: the Atlanta-based trio just released their first full album, House Kid (available for free download here), but the band that took the stage last night was a duo. The trio version of the band has been compared, not always favorably, to Animal Collective, but the duo on stage last night sounded more chillwave, more akin to Washed Out and Toro Y Moi, also both southern bands (Georgia and South Carolina, respectively) than the dense, complex sound of AC.

I'm not sure, but I think the lineup tonight consisted of Seth Bolton and Lisa Highfill. In any event, Bolton (?) announced that tonight was Highfill's (?) first time on stage as part of the band, "so go easy on her." In any event, they both alternated playing various combinations of guitars, synthesizers, and occasional drums and both sang, making effective use of loop effects and sequencers to expand their music into something sounding much larger than a duo. A very enjoyable set and a good start to the evening.

The next band on stage, Brooklyn's Beach Fossils, have gone through some recent transitions as well. There's a video of their bassist throwing his guitar into the river during a July 4th show in Long Island City - he was apparently either frustrated with the sound or was just trying to be rock n roll. A week or so later their guitarist left the band, saying, "I have nothing but love for the band and everyone in it. I just need to do my own thing," adding that, "If you are interested in playing guitar for Beach Fossils, get in touch via email ASAP and be ready to leave Friday." Apparently, guitarist T.J. Duke of Cloud Nothings sent them an email, as frontman Dustin Payseur introduced Duke during tonight's show, saying that Duke rose to the occasion and "really saved our asses."

The band played an energetic set of low-fi garage-surf songs. Their bassist wore a hilarious captain's hat and the drummer took pictures of the audience before the set started. His minimal drum kit consisted of only a single tom-tom and a snare, no bass drum and no cymbals, but he seemed to revel in the simplicity and beat out some basic but effective rhythms. The vocals were completely lost in the mix, at least from where we were standing (after all there years, bands still don't seem to have the technology for letting the vocals rise above the din of the band), but Payseur seemed quite earnest in their delivery. In interviews, he claims influences from improvisational jazz to classical music, and from Don Cherry to Stereolab, but in performance, he sounded more influenced by the 60s British Invasion bands and early punk than anything else.

That's not meant to be a criticism at all; in fact, it's a good thing. If you're curious about what they actually sound like, here's a little sample:

So on to the main event of the evening, Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic. In recordings, the five-piece band plays a sort of quirky, neo-psychedelic pop, with influences ranging from, well, improvisational jazz to classical music, but on stage tonight they rocked, and rocked a lot harder than anyone would have guessed. After performing the second song of their set, Fangela (one of my favorites), they went straight into the next song without a break, and ended with a long, sustained, wall-of-sound crescendo that just about blew The Earl's walls out into the parking lot. I thought I might have to pick bits of stucco off of my windshield before driving home if they got any louder.

At that point, the audience knew we were in for a special night. Frontman Luke Temple announced that this was only their fourth performance in Atlanta, and led the band through a set of his songs, allowing various members of the band chances to stretch themselves out at times. Just about everyone in the band sings and sings well, and the songs have complex structures and harmonies that set them apart from the compositions of others.

Special mention needs to be made about their bassist, Jennifer Turner. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She played well and sang back-up vocals, all while preening for two photographers who had elbowed their way to the front of the audience and also seemed incapable of looking away. She has a great combination of rock-star confidence and Hollywood glamour which, when combined with her musicianship, could someday make her a star in her own right.

Why is it that female bass players always seem to wear little black dresses? Reviewing their recent LA show, Molly Bergen wrote, "Luke Temple may be the face of Here We Go Magic, but bass player Jennifer Turner stole the show. Dressed up in a little black dress, it appeared that Turner felt every pulsation that went through that red bass guitar of hers to the very core. I've never seen a bassist rock so hard. Usually they just stand in a corner and strum, but Turner bent her knees and grooved to every single note. It was clear that she wanted the audience to feel every beat of the band's heart as strongly as she did."

Here We Go Magic closed their set with a rousing cover of Collector from their new album (the interesting video above for the song is a fan-generated effort, not the official video). The song starts with Turner's throbbing bass line and ends with a long section with enigmatic, numerical backing vocals that sounds like it could (should?) go on forever.

So I was disappointed, then, that when the song finally did end and the band left the stage, the audience provided only a modicum of applause and didn't show much enthusiasm to have them come back on stage. The stage lights went off and recorded music came over the PA after a mere 60 seconds. It's the first concert this year - in fact, the only one I can remember - where the headliner didn't come back on stage for at least one encore, and this is a band that I definitely wanted to hear some more.

The Here We Go Magic tour continues up the Eastern Seaboard until they get to play back home again at Brooklyn's Coco 66, and then they're off on a European tour. Beach Fossils parts ways with them after August 8, but will continue to tour the eastern U.S. with Warpaint and Javelin. As far as I know, Living Rooms are available to join a tour, and their music deserves the chance to be heard by a larger audience. They're worth checking out.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

You Know You Get To Choose Your Moods, Don't You?

More good news . . . Elena Kagan was confirmed for the Supreme Court today, making this the first time in American history that the High Court will have three female justices, and BP succeeded in plugging the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo oil well today.

Meanwhile, the band Arcade Fire will live stream their performance at Madison Square Garden tonight on YouTube, with direction by Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, Brazil, Time Bandits, etc.).

All of this, plus yesterday's good news, has me in a great mood, despite (or maybe because of) the August heat wave outside. So, please join me in listening to and enjoying this terrific mixtape titled A Summer In 3/4 Time by Jens Lekman, which, if you give it a few minutes, is guaranteed to put you in as good a mood as mine.


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Today is Barack Obama's birthday. I want to take a moment to wish him the best, and thank him for making me proud once again to be an American.

Over the year and a half or so that he's been in office, I'll admit to having questioned some of his decisions and I've not agreed with everything he's done, but that's the nature of politics and of the Presidency. However, for possibly the first time in my life, I have a President whom I can understand. Even when I disagree with his choices, I understand how he reached his conclusion.

Today's been a particularly auspicious day for this country, and not just because of Barack's birthday. On two separate issues, one on each coast, we took giant steps forward for liberty and freedom. In New York, the City reached a decision that would allow construction of a controversial mosque near the former World Trade Towers, affirming our commitment to tolerance and the separation of Church and State. And meanwhile, over on the West Coast, a judge overturned California's ban on gay marriage, again affirming our commitment to tolerance and the separation of Church and State.

Unfortunately, not everybody will perceive these events in the same way as I do, but that's where diversity and tolerance comes to play. Mr. Obama came down here to diverse, if not always tolerant, Atlanta earlier this week to make a major speech to a group of veterans on his Afghanistan policy (see paragraph above about my not agreeing with everything), and Roy Barnes, Democratic candidate for Governor, went as far out of his way as possible to avoid being seen with the Commander In Chief, campaigning all the way down state by the Florida border so as not to give his adversaries any opportunities to accuse him of guilt by association.

But still, even here there's hope. Some Republican politicians here are finally standing up to demagogue Sarah Palin, who has inserted herself into local politics by endorsing run-off candidate Karen Handel. In a blow to Ms. Palin's pretensions to become a feminist icon of some sort, many of these critics are women. According to Joan Westmoreland, wife of Georgia Congressman and former Racist Georgian of the Week Lynn Westmoreland, "Alaska is a far cry from Georgia and I’m pretty sure Ms. Palin can’t smell our peaches from her front porch. This is not just about who wears lipstick, it’s about who will govern this state with integrity and conviction."

Sen. Renee Unterman said, "We feel this: Sarah Palin is an outsider. She knows what’s happening in Wasilla, Alaska; we know what’s happening in Ocilla, Georgia, Camilla, Georgia, and Augusta, Georgia."

So there's hope. Thank you for that, Mr. President, and happy birthday!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Dear Friends & Clients: As many of you know, I am a longtime supporter of Hospice."

That's the way an e-mail began that appeared today in my business inbox. At first, I thought it might have been a plea for donations (dana), but as I read on it became more interesting.

"For those of you who have had friends or family members in hospice, you know the remarkable value that hospice care can provide for terminally ill people. Unfortunately, many people are not referred to, or do not accept, hospice care until the very end. Although hospice is generally considered appropriate for someone with a prognosis of less than 6 months to live, the average hospice stay is less than a week."

The message went on to say that the author, an attorney friend, had been traveling with his family and listening to an interview with Dr. Atul Gawande on Terry Gross’ program “Fresh Air” on NPR. Dr. Gawande was discussing end-of-life issues that appeared in his recent article in the New Yorker magazine. The interview, along with the article, presents a remarkable overview of the medical, legal, social, philosophical, spiritual, and even financial aspects of this issue. It also contains the personal reflections of the author regarding decisions we make for ourselves and our loved ones at the end of life.

I had read the article, and found it fascinating. Happily, the e-mail also included a link to where the interview can be heard on WBUR radio.

"As an attorney," he continued, "I have had to help my clients and their loved ones deal with end of life issues in a variety of contexts. In Georgia, we have Advanced Directives for Medical Care that address some of these issues. I have attached a copy of the Statutory Form for your use. If you live somewhere other than Georgia, check with your attorney regarding how to ensure that your end-of-life wishes are carried out. Most importantly, talk to your loved ones about your choices and desires regarding end-of-life care."

So what I thought might be a plea for money turned out to be a free service sharing important advise for end-of-life planning. I felt guilty about my cynical first reaction.

"Life is precious," he concluded, "but it isn’t permanent."

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Traffic Jam

And I thought Atlanta traffic was bad.

On Saturday, stuck in a line of cars that was moving along at about 10 miles per hour, I felt like traffic in Georgia had reached the tipping point toward permanent gridlock. But then I remembered these photographs of the so-called "rush hour" in Islamabad that a client had sent me after he had returned from a business trip to Pakistan, and I realized that things may not be so bad here after all.