Friday, September 30, 2011

This Used To Be Such a Nice Blog . . .

video

This week's theme for Friday Night Videos is Women Who Rock. We'll start gently with a video from the band Pageants. Can't give you much of a back story here, but I've wanted to post this video ever since someone named Max posted a link to the band's Facebook page in a comment on my MFNW post about Avi Buffalo.  All that I know is that Pageants apparently consists of one Rebecca Coleman, formerly of Avi Buffalo, that it's dreamy music, and that I'm anxious to hear more from her.  So this one's for Rebecca and Pageants.

Last night, I fantasized about hearing Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak jam with Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable.  Dueling blondes on guitar.  Here's a video of Wye Oak, not from last night's performance but from a recent (March) KEXP appearance.



And here's The Joy Formidable playing, for some reason that's never explained, in a bicycle shop at this year's SXSW:



But for the last word in Women Who Rock, and to solve the equation of Jenn + Ritzy = ?, here's Anita Robinson of Portland's Viva Voce at Bumbershoot:



Hendrix in open-toed heels.  And to think, this used to be such a nice blog . . . 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Explosions In The Sky, Part Four


You didn't forget it was Rocktober, did you?  Explosions In The Sky played tonight at The Tabernacle.  Extra bonus points:  Wye Oak opened.


We'll discuss Wye Oak first.  This is a band that I've wanted to see for a while now, and truth be told, they're really the reason that I brought tickets for tonight's show. Wye Oak are the duo of Jenn Wasner, who sings lead vocals and plays electric guitar, and Andy Stack, who plays drums with his feet and right hand, and keyboards with his left.  Their sound has been aptly described as "earnest folk-influenced indie rock with touches of noise and dream pop," and both light and dark elements combine nicely in their music.  

Wye Oak played a terrific set, with lots of dollops of noise thrown into the mix.  In a perfect world, I would like to see them share a stage with The Joy Formidable, and watch Jenn and Ritzy, the two blonde guitarists, blasts out angular chords of dissonant rock.  At the least, it would be interesting to hear them cover each other's songs.  

Wye Oak's set this evening included Civilian, naturally, as well as I Hope You Die, but The Tabernacle never really managed to get the mix quite right, and Ms. Wasner's vocals were often buried beneath the sound.  I couldn't make out a word of her stage banter between songs.  I'd love to see Wye Oak in a smaller club like The Earl someday.  


This was my third time seeing Explosions In The Sky, although the first two times were both on the same day.    Yes, they played according to their patented quiet-quiet-quiet-loud-loud-loud formula, but I have to admit, it really works.  It's not complicated or overly cerebral, but why fix something that ain't broke?  The crowd around me loved it, as did I.  The quiet passages are hypnotic and spacey, and just as you start to lose yourself in the intricate layers of patterns, they slam you with  big block-busting slabs of dopamine-inducing stoner rock. A young lady standing to my left literally passed out - twice - during the performance, and another to my left was hanging off of her friends to keep from collapsing.  

I have my criticisms.  Everything's played in the same 4/4 beat and the tempo never varies, and the three guitarists always play in unison and no one ever steps out and  solos, but as I said before, it works, so why complain? And after all, you have to hand it to them for sheer artistry - they're entirely instrumental with no vocals at all, yet they keep their audience spellbound just with the sound of their music.  There are no audience participation segments, and no one on stage ever called out, "How you feelin', Atlanta?" 

Their performance this evening was better, in my opinion, than their show in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square, but then again, better acoustics and visibility might play a role in that assessment.  However, I felt kind of smug this evening knowing that no one else in the audience tonight likely ever saw this band in as intimate a settting or with a clearer sound system than the KEXP session at the Doug Fir that I saw earlier that same day in Portland.

Pictures will eventually get posted over at the Live site.  So far, though, I've only managed to post the Bumbershoot pictures from Labor Day weekend, and haven't even gotten to the MFNW pics yet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Theoretical Becomes Concrete


I had an opportunity today to put practice into action.  After I was told last week that my work hours are being reduced and then was told this week that my hourly wage is also being reduced, so that I would basically be working less and for less pay, I was understandably agitated.  After my mind initially filled with fantasies of all the bad things that conceivably could happen (but most likely won't), like foreclosure, homelessness, and untreated illnesses, and my ego asserted that all of this was some sort of individual attack against me personally which shouldn't - couldn't - be tolerated, I managed to catch myself. How bad was this situation really, and why was I making it worse with my anger and rage?

Unlike a great many Americans these days, I still have a job.  Unlike a great many Americans these days, I still have some savings left if needed.  Unlike a great many Americans these days, I have the spiritual resources to deal with this situation, and the knowledge that, like everything else, this too shall pass. 

So I let the anger drop away by practicing kindness and humility instead of greed and anger.  I realized that I was experiencing anger and resentment because I was clinging to what I thought of as "mine," even though I know that attachment to wealth gives rise to greed and prevents the manifestation of generosity.  That's all fine in theory, the ego said, but don't be so naive - this is your livelihood they're messing with.

A few deep breaths.  I walked into the boss' office.  I don't think she thought me naive or Pollyannaish when I told her that I understood the business situation, and while this isn't the ideal situation for anyone, that I was sure that we would be able to work through this. I smiled, we shook hands, and I felt better and she felt better.  

We'll all survive, at least to a point, and we'll all eventually leave this mortal coil with nothing.  There's no reason to make anything bigger out of this than needed, and certainly no reason for me to torture myself over that which I can't really control anyway.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Things I Wanted To Say Sunday But Didn't


As we settle into our meditation, we can come face to face with our own consciousness if we don't get misled by the traces.

When we first sit down, we are as aware of what we are doing as we are during any other activity - no more, no less.  But in every other activity, our awareness is focused on the activity at hand and not on the actual awareness of the activity.  But the very first indication of consciousness, our awareness of the activity, is right there in front of us, and yet we don't yet see it at first.

It's like looking for an ox that got lost in the forest.  We start looking for the ox but only see the roughest indications that it's passed this way - the trampled grass, the bent branches, and so on.  Our awareness of our actions is like these signs - general indications of the presence of the ox, but most certainly not the ox itself.

As we sit a little longer, our mundane, day-to-day thoughts appear in our minds, the very same daydreams, memories, and anticipations of what may (or may not) happens later in the day.  These thoughts, as we start looking at them, are obviously signs of a conscious mind ("I think, therefore I am"), but are not the conscious mind itself.  They are  like the footprints of the ox - definitive indications that the ox is near, but still not the thing we're seeking.

With longer sitting, we're able to brush away these thoughts, either by focusing the attention on the breath, or by not engaging the thoughts and just letting them drop away.  But as this happens, there's still an awareness of the dropping away of thoughts, and then thoughts start to emerge about the dropping away of thoughts.  More footprints.

Eventually, odder mental formations may start to emerge - subconscious memories, little intuitive insights and ideas, even suppressed emotions, not always pleasant.  We are getting past the active, "thinking" mind, and entering the realm of the subconscious.  These are like glimpses of the ox through the foliage, closer, but still not quite there.

The breakthrough starts with a sudden inversion of the very nature of observation.  An intuitive realization emerges that we're looking in the wrong direction, as if we've been searching for the ox while looking into a mirror or through the wrong end of a telescope, but not directly at the very thing that we're seeking.  Instead of looking at the output of consciousness, instead of examining the thoughts, ideas, intuitions, and emotions, we should just turn around and look at what's perceiving those thoughts, ideas, intuitions, and emotions.  Don't look down at the footprints, scat, and broken twigs, but look up at the very ox right in front of us, right where it's always been.  Don't look at the product, don't look for the producer of the product, stop "looking for" anything - it's right there and always has been.

It's you.

Monday, September 26, 2011


One day Dogen instructed,

A lay person said, “Who does not want to have fine clothing? Who does not love rich flavors? However, people who aspire to learn the Way enter the mountains, sleep under the clouds, and endure cold and hunger. Do not think that the ancients did not suffer; they endured suffering in order to abide in the Way. People in later generations hear this and revere the Way, respecting the virtue of our predecessors.”

Even among lay people, the wise are like this.

People practicing the Buddha-Way must not fail to have this attitude. Not all the ancients had golden bones; not all the contemporaries of the Buddha were superior vessels of the dharma. According to the Precepts texts, there were various monks. Some had incredibly evil minds. However, it is written that all eventually attained the Way and became Arhats. Therefore, even though we are low-minded and inferior, we should immediately arouse bodhi-mind, understanding that if we arouse such a mind and practice, we will definitely attain the Way. All the ancients endured pain and cold, still they practiced amidst their distress. Students today, even if you are suffering from physical pain or mental anguish, you should force yourselves to practice the Way (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, Book 4, Chapter 6).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Afterthoughts


Things I wanted to say during my dharma talk this morning but never got around to including (quite possibly because I've been out rock 'n' rolling all week):

The universe appears to be composed of matter and energy, and life and consciousness appear to be byproducts of configurations of matter. That is to say, there is first matter, then matter assumes biological forms, and then biological forms give rise to sentient beings, from which in turn arises consciousness.

But there's an interesting thing we can all see about the nature of consciousness as opposed to the nature of matter. Concrete forms, like water or human beings, have measurable properties, like temperature, viscosity, weight, and density. All of these properties are not the things themselves, that is, they are not the water or the human beings, but the attributes of the things by which we know them.  We have no first-hand experience of water or human beings other than the information about them that we can perceive.

But we have no way of measuring any direct attributes of consciousness. Things would be so much simpler if we could - we would be able to tell if, say, a fetus in the first trimester or a comatose patient in a vegetative state had consciousness or not, and make decisions accordingly.

But consciousness itself is not a measurable property of some underlying form.  We can detect neural activity, we can record our thoughts and memories, we can even quantify intelligence and problem-solving abilities, but these are properties of consciousness, and not consciousness itself.

That being so, consciousness must be a first-order form that itself gives rise to second-order, measurable properties (thoughts, ideas, memories, etc.) and not be a second-order property that arises from biological substrates. That is, consciousness does not arise from brains, but must exist at the same level as organic matter. I'm not denying the co-dependency of organic matter, like sentient beings and brains, and consciousness, any more than I would deny the relationship between plants, soil, and sunlight, but just as plant life is not a measurable property of soil and sunlight but a separate but interdependent phenomena in its own right, so too are consciousness and biological matter interdependent but equivalent. And since all biological matter are first and foremost matter, consciousness and matter are fundamentally existent at the same level, and quite possibly are one and the same thing.

I realize that all of this sounds hopelessly philosophical. But even while a growing number of physicists suggest that consciousness may play a much more fundamental role in nature than scientists previously believed, we can directly observe this fundamental nature of consciousness through meditation. Upon seeing the peach blossoms in the spring, Lingyun had an awakening, and later he told an assembly of monks that when all else is stripped away, there remains only an underlying, luminous and all-pervading consciousness, which is eternal.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Music Midtown


Cage the Elephant, Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, Music Midtown.  I actually started much closer to the stage than shown here by walking over during the Black Keys set and slowly working my way up toward the stage, but I couldn't get any pictures up there due to the fist pumping, the crowd surfing, and the lead singer running all over the stage.  I retreated, and then retreated some more.

I try to be positive in these reviews and even if I don't like a band, I generally try to find something nice to say about something - the venue, the weather, the crowd, anything.  So let me say this about the performance of Bowling Green, Kentucky's Cage the Elephant - it was a cool and pleasant evening.

Seriously, this band is awful.  They have one good song (I even posted a video of it a while back), but they had to play it twice during their set because I don't think they have much of anything else.  The rest of their set was all off-key shrieking and noise (and not in the cool way).  As mentioned, their lead singer ran all over the stage for the first couple of songs, and even stage dived and surfed the crowd during the second song, but he peaked too early and seemed to run out of gas quickly, and just kind of hung off of the microphone for the rest of the set.  It was a relief when they finally finished.

Admittedly, the bands in the lineup, other than The Joy Formidable and Band of Skulls, aren't really my cup of tea.  This is mostly music for a younger crowd, other than Coldplay, who appeal to a much broader demographic.

I didn't even stay for Coldplay (I'm posting this entry from home).  There's something polarizing about this band - people either love them (and they sell a lot of albums), or people are like me, and can't stand them.  I'll grant them their musical abilities, but they sound to this listener too formulaic, too willing to pander to radio formats, too egotistical, and too transparently manipulative (their recent single is titled Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall - I wish I were kidding).  I sat for a while among the blankets and land claims of the crowd waiting through Cage for Coldplay to start, and finally realized that all other things being equal, I'd really rather be somewhere else, anywhere else really, than there, so I called it a day.  Life is too short to have to sit through a Coldplay concert.

But even as I was leaving the festival, there was a horde of people streaming in, just arriving now.  For them, the whole reason to buy Music Midtown tickets was to see Coldplay, and they had no interest in attending any of the other sets of the day.

Overall, I'd give Music Midtown a grade of C minus.  The lineup was pretty weak, there was very little diversity and fewer surprises, and the two alternating stages just created a constant human stampede from one stage to the other between sets.  On the positive side, everything was very professionally run and managed, the sound system was outstanding, and the venue attractive (it was held in Piedmont Park with great views of the Midtown skyline).

I look forward to an expanded (two days, please) and more inclusive Music Midtown once again becoming an Atlanta tradition.

The Black Keys


Electric Ballroom Stage, Music Midtown. After leaving Young the Giant's stage, I couldn't even get close to Akron, Ohio's The Black Keys.  The crowd seemingly doubles in size between every set, and the Coldplay squatters have expanded beyond the front of the stage.  Like an Oklahoma land rush, folks are claiming their territory for later with blankets, supine bodies, and clothing (they weren't allowed to bring in coolers).  But between each set, there's a mass migration from one stage to the other, except for the die-hard squatters waiting for Coldplay.

I will give the festival this - the sound system is excellent, both the mix and the PA system, and even if you're not up front, you really can see and hear the sets just about anywhere (even back in the concession lines).  Very well done.

Young The Giant


Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, Music Midtown.  In case there was any doubt, the name of this band is Young the Giant.  This may be the last time I get this close to the stage - the crowd here is getting ginormous.  Y the G played upbeat, party pop to the delight of their audience. I hadn't heard them before, but found myself dancing along with the largely adolescent crowd around me anyway. The best news of the day, though, is the sun finally dipped beneath the tree line - it's actually a relatively cool day with a nice breeze, but the relentless sun has been brutal.

Manchester Orchestra


Electric Ballroom Stage, Music Midtown.  After the one-two punch of Joy Formidable and Band of Skulls, I had to retreat for a while to find some shade and get something to eat.  When I got back, I couldn't even get near the stage at which Atlanta's own Manchester Orchestra were playing.  People in the first 20 or so yards from the stage are waiting to see Coldplay on this stage later tonight, and are trying to stake out their territory with picnic blankets.  They're getting visibly annoyed as the young crowd surges froward and takes over "their" space.

Band of Skulls


Great Southeast Music Hall, Music Midtown.  A raw, rootsy performance by this English trio in the tradition of The Kills and The White Stripes.  The crowd is swelling in size, and it's getting harder and harder to get close to the stage.

The Joy Formidable, Part Two


Electric Ballroom Stage, Music Midtown.  And to think, they were playing The Earl six months ago.  This band is the reason I bought tickets to this event, as well as the reason I took the Number 44 bus to the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. The Joy Formidable put on a great show to a growing crowd at Music Midtown, and got me to stay out in the sun for over 90 minutes.

Walk The Moon


Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, Music Midtown. I don't know anything about this young Cincinnati band, but they wore facepaint on stage and the singer played a floor tom, so they must be an indie rock band. Seriously though, they have some good songs and an enthusiastic stage presence, and a lot of the young crowd in front of the stage were quite excited about them.

I lasted four songs before the sun made me retreat for shade.

The Constellations


Electric Ballroom Stage, Music Midtown.  Atlanta sextet The Constellations played an eclectic set of funky blues -rock and roadhouse soul.  They look like they're straight out of a casting call for a revival of Hair, and that's meant as a compliment. They dedicated a song to Troy Davis, which seems a little after the fact, and later brought out singer Ruby Valle of the Soulphonics for a song.

It's great that its sunny and warm out, but damn, this sun is intense. Halfway through each set, I'm ducking out from in front of the stage to find some shade.

The Postelles


Great Southeast Music Hall Stage, Music Midtown.  New York root rockers The Postelles opened the festival, and included a Ramones cover in their set.  After a week of rain, the weather cleared up today in time for Music Midtown, and there's not a cloud in the Georgia sky.

Music Midtown


Surprise! It's Rocktober, and time to squeeze in one more festival. Seattle has Bumbershoot, Portland has MFNW, and Austin has South By Southwest (and Austin City Limits). Atlanta has Music Midtown, and it's today. The festival went into hiatus for a couple of years, but this year it's back, admittedly in a smaller form and with a frankly disappointing lineup, but here we go anyway.

I'll keep you updated.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Videos Worth Watching. . . And My Beef With the Masquerade


A day later, I'm not any more pleased with the Masquerade's offering last night, but I'm in much less of a mood to complain about the evening.  Maybe some George Gershwin can cheer me up.  I do know, though,  that as soon as I start, I probably won't be able to shut the floodgate of complaints.  

The issue last evening comes down to this: the Masquerade has two levels,  an upstairs stage called "Heaven" and a downstairs called "Hell," and they typically book bands in both venues on the same evenings.  The problem is that the sound from one level totally interferes with the sound from the other, to the detriment of both the performer and the audience.  But the club doesn't seem to care and makes no effort to mitigate the effects - my impression is they're more than glad to book as many bands as possible and collect as much as they can at the box office, and let the fans sort it out for themselves.

Case in point last night:  Canadian electro-funk duo Chromeo played upstairs, with Sammy Bananas and Meyer Hawthorne opening, while downstairs, the experimental pop band Yellow Ostrich opened for moody indie rockers The Antlers.  After making everyone stand in line outside in the rain for a half hour before finally opening the doors at 8:00, and then making everyone in the lower venue stand around for an hour while the muffled thump of the bass drum from Sammy Bananas pounded down through the floor from above, it finally seemed like show time at around 9:00 when the upstairs act mercifully ended and the thumping stopped.  But no, the Masquerade still waited another half hour until Meyer Hawthorne took the stage upstairs and the thumping resumed before they put Yellow Ostrich on the stage downstairs.

Yellow Ostrich is the solo project of Wisconsin's Alex Schaaf.  He's touring with a drummer and bassist-slash-brass player.  Their music involves intricate and complex over-layering of live samples of their performance, such that Mr. Schaaf can create an entire choir out of his own voice, and his bassist can create a full horn section by layering short samples of his trumpet, flugelhorn, and baritone sax.


It's interesting and involving music, but the band was visibly distracted by all of the sound coming from upstairs, at times looking up and smiling apologetically to the audience (as if it were somehow the band's fault and not the club's).  Fortunately, Mr. Hawthorne finished while Yellow Ostrich still had a few minutes left to their set, including their standout songs Whale and Mary.

There was no band on either stage upstairs or down between Yellow Ostrich's and The Antler's sets, but by the time The Antlers took the stage, Chromeo has started playing upstairs, and playing loud.  I have no beef with Chromeo or their audience, and I'm sure that if you were up there in Heaven with Chromeo, their fast, bass-heavy dance music must have sounded great, but downstairs it was a loud, thumping mess.  Worse, The Antlers' music is very dynamic volume-wise, and not in the formulaic style of Explosions In The Sky's quiet-quiet-quiet-loud-loud-loud approach.  That is, while The Antlers play a lot of loud electric guitar and keyboard passages, these are almost cathartic bursts between tender, emotional, and even poignant quieter passages, most of which revolve around singer Peter Silberman's anguished falsetto.  But their songs don't work when those quiet passages are lost to the dull roar and bass drum of the band upstairs.  "We'd like to thank Chromeo for their guest appearance on that last song," joked keyboardist Darby Cicci after one song, before remarking "God, it's like their bass is right in my head."

Ours too.  While I've been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to see The Antlers three times now on their current tour (an early-morning KEXP set at Portland's Doug Fir Lounge, and an outdoor set at Pioneer Courthouse Square), I would have been very disappointed had I shelled out the money for the show ($17) and then stood around for two hours through all the noise from upstairs, if that were my one-and-only chance to hear them.  And as if that weren't enough, during The Antlers set, the club never bothered to turn on the stage lights that they had used for Yellow Ostrich.  The Antlers were performing on stage, but for all that half of the audience could see and hear, it might have been their high-school gym teacher on stage singing Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out.  It also made it hard to take good pictures, but that's just me.


To make matters even worse, the Masquerade also runs a dance club, Purgatory, in the same old former excelsior mill building across the hallway from the Hell stage.  The doors between the stage on which The Antlers were playing and the Purgatory dance floor were both wide open, so not only did we now have to contend with the funky bass from Chromeo upstairs, but also the disco beat and general noise coming from Purgatory.  The band was visibly annoyed.

During one of Mr. Silberman's more emotive vocal passages, now almost totally obscured by all of the noise from above and beyond, as his hands dramatically rose slowly above his head, he suddenly thrust out his middle finger at the direction of the door and all of its intrusive noise. Loud cheers from his audience.  "You know," he said, "Right now, I'm so glad that I'm down here with you rather than with those assholes upstairs.  I don't even know them, they might be great people for all I know, but you've chosen to be patient and try your best to listen to us as we attempt to play, and we appreciate that so much."  The band then went through the rest of their set list as best as they could, emphasizing the louder passages of their songs that could compete with all of the noise and minimizing or even entirely passing over some of the quieter passages.  It worked, but it wasn't The Antlers, it wasn't how they wanted to perform, and it wasn't what he had come to hear.

But here's the good news: Everything's impermanent and nothing lasts forever, even a set by Chromeo.  The band eventually finished, and things were finally quiet enough for The Antlers to close their set with one of the best versions of their heartbreaking song Putting the Dog to Sleep I've heard them perform yet.


And it gets even better:  The audience, so appreciative of both the relative quiet from upstairs as well as awed by the intense performance of the last song, hung in there and coaxed the band back for an encore, even though they had been on stage for almost a full hour.  Upon returning, Mr. Silberman announced that he'd make a deal with us:  they could still play a few more songs if someone would be kind enough to get them two beers from the bar.  Someone quickly obliged ("You've got free Antlers tickets for life," Mr. Cicci told him), and The Antlers played an absolutely lovely and devastating set of extended versions of about three or four more songs, some of the best playing I've heard from them.  They seemed to sincerely want to reward the audience, which had dwindled down to less than 100 persons, for hanging in there through it all with them.  Rather than storming out like divas or prima donnas over the atrocious conditions, rather than inciting anger and rage at the club or the audience from upstairs, who were now filing out past the open doors as The Antlers were played their extended encore, they took the extra time to make sure that we all got at least a sample of the artistry for which we had come. And for that, they've got my highest respect.

John Lennon once said something to the effect that an artist can take anything and make something beautiful out of it.  The Antlers took a rough and unprofessional venue, indifferent club management, and atrocious sound conditions, and created a beautiful act of redemption at the end, worth every dime of the ticket price and the time spent in the aptly named "Hell."

So how does the Masquerade even stay open?  It's been in business since 1989, but has traditionally catered to high schoolers and metalheads who simply don't know better.  There are far better and pleasanter and more professionally managed places to hear music in Atlanta, including Center Stage, Variety Playhouse, and the redoubtable Earl, yet the club lives on.  Atlanta's Creative Loafing newspaper even went so far as to give the Masquerade one of it's "Best of Atlanta" awards this week as "Best Local Music Institution To Reinvent Itself." According to the Loaf, "Good things have been afoot at the Masquerade since the club opened its doors. . . But as East Atlanta Village flourished in recent years, the apex of the live music scene shifted with it. But over the last few years, the classic venue has become a place true music enthusiasts can't afford to sleep on. By booking the upper echelon of national and international acts on the upswing . . . the Masquerade has reemerged as a vital Atlanta musical institution."

And if you can believe that, I have a couple of bridges over the Chattahoochee River I'd like to sell you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Antlers, Part Three


I'm too tired from too many nights in a row to write too much about this evening, but let me just say that everything I dislike about The Masquerade manifested itself this evening when I overcame my misgivings about the venue and went to see The Antlers perform there anyway.  It was my third time seeing The Antlers this month, having already seen them twice at MFNW, both at a KEXP morning show at the Doug Fir and later that same day outdoors at Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Despite The Masquerade's best efforts, The Antlers managed to put on a great show, especially for those of us who stayed to the very end.

Yellow Ostrich (below) opened.  I'll post more pictures here or somewhere very soon and write more about the evening, but right now I just want to go to bed and end this evening.


But before I do, I guess I just have to acknowledge that after seeing Glasser and Elbow Tuesday night at Center Stage, The Devil Whale, Thao And the Get Down Stay Down, and The Head And The Heart Wednesday night at Variety Playhouse, and Yellow Ostrich and The Antlers tonight at the dreadful Masquerade, it's now officially Rocktober.  Rocktober isn't necessarily contiguous with its calender month namesake, and it can start in September as it's doing this year or end in November as it did last year.  In either event, it's Rocktober now, and I'm just getting started.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Head and The Heart & Thao and The Get Down Stay Down - Variety Playhouse, Atlanta


Another evening of tough decisions - Athens, Georgia's Reptar, Cults, and Foster the People over at the Masquerade, or Thao and The Get Down Stay Down with The Head and The Heart at Variety Playhouse?  While Cults have produced some of my favorite music of 2011, I'm not that wild about the Masquerade, so I decided to go see The Head and the Heart and Thao at the Variety Playhouse instead, and like last night, I'm once again convinced that I made the right choice.


The opening act was a promising indie rock quintet from Salt Lake City called The Devil Whale.  It was their second time playing Atlanta, and the first time playing a large venue here (last time, they apparently played at artists' collective WonderRoot).


The dedicated their final song to (the now late) Troy Davis.  Sadly, most people in the audience around me didn't know who he was.

But I was excited to get an opportunity to hear Thao Nguyen and her band, The Get Down Stay Down.  I haven't seen them yet, or so I thought, but I had a strange deja vu feeling as the band set up, a sensation that I had in fact seen them somewhere once before.  Could it have been possible that I had seen them and then forgotten?  If not, where did I know these musicians from?


Come to think of it, isn't that the same bass player that I saw at the Doug Fir playing for Ages and Ages during MFNW?


And isn't that the keyboard player for Ages and Ages that I saw at Doug Fir, and even back at Bumbershoot?  In fact, isn't she even wearing the same exact dress as she was at Bumbershoot?


In fact, they are indeed the same two who were in Ages and Ages, the band that I had enjoyed so much at both festivals.  As it turns out, bass player Adam Thompson has been playing with Ms. Nguyen for years - they're both originally from Virginia and now reside in San Francisco.  So The Get Down Stay Down appears to be Mr. Thompson's primary gig, and Ages and Ages a side project.  



No matter.  Both musicians played great with both bands, but the real show was put on by Ms. Nguyen.  Thao sings and plays guitar with enthusiasm and energy, putting a kick into her marvelous songs.  She covered my favorite song of hers, When We Swam, early in her set (I think it was the second song), and didn't make us wait until the end of the set.




However, Seattle's The Head and the Heart proved that they deserved their headliner status.  I may have used terms like "joyous" to describe bands here before, but The Head and the Heart truly defined the term, putting on a truly joyous set of folk rock so uplifting it bordered on a revival.


Vocals duties are spread among the band, and everyone contributes to the enthusiasm of the songs.  When they finally launched into Sounds Like Hallelujah, the mood was almost transcendental.


Like The Devil Whale, this was The Head and The Heart's second time playing in Atlanta.  I don't know where they played here before (but can guarantee it wasn't WonderRoot).


Like Elbow the night before, they played several quieter ballads between some of the more up-tempo numbers, and like Elbow the night before, they managed to get the capacity crowd to be absolutely quiet as they kept us in rapt attention.




Sooner or later, I'll get around to posting the rest of tonight's pics over at the Live Site - one of these days, I'll not actually be at a show but have a free evening to post the pictures from these shows.


Listening and watching The Head and The Heart put me in such a wonderful mood that I know I once again made the right decision.  As much as I love The Earl, I have to admit that it was nice the past couple of nights to be in the smoke-free atmosphere of Center Stage and Variety Playhouse, and it's always preferable if one can manage to not be at the Masquerade.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Elbow and Glasser - Center Stage, Atlanta


It's finally show night, and Elbow performed at Atlanta's Center Stage, with Glasser opening first with an initial song bravely sung a cappella, followed by electronic accompaniment.


I like Glasser's music, a lot, but her stage performance was even better than I had anticipated.  Despite all of the electronics and looping and use of repeaters and layering, her voice was authentic and true, and she sang accompanied by the electronica, not subsumed beneath the synthesizers, effects and pedals. (In other words, she doesn't use Auto Tune.)  


She pushed all of the right buttons for me, including some tribal-sounding chants, some creative melody and song structure, and great use of a floor tom.  She totally validated my decision to hear her and Elbow over all of the other choices this evening.


Of course, all this praise for the opening act is to take nothing away from the headliner, Elbow.  The quintet put on an uplifting and joyous set, complete with two violinists, making them a septet for the evening.   


Somehow, lead singer Guy Garvey coaxed the audience into singing the faux-Native-American Atlanta Braves rally chant, and then managed to morph the chant into their song Grounds for Divorce.


"Build a rocket, boys!," Mr. Garvey sang during Lippy Kids.


The young woman sitting next to me and my friend Nick during the show claimed she flew all the way from L.A. just to see  this one concert.  I believe she got her money's worth. 


It's a testament to the band that they were able to keep the near-capacity crowd quiet and spellbound during the course of several ballads.


Not that all the songs were ballads.  They also performed several rousing, up-tempo numbers to the clapping of the crowd, who also sang along on a great many verses.  The audience even sang, "Happy Birthday to Elbow" (with a little bit of prompting from Mr. Garvey) after it was announced that it was the band's 20th anniversary performing together.


For the encore, before performing the inevitable One Day Like This, the band took the stage all playing trumpets, providing a brass overture to the remainder of their set.


It's great to hear a band play with the intelligence and grace that Elbow displays.  While I had half-expected them to be morose and moody, they were instead sensitive but joyful, self-deprecating yet confident.  I missed seeing Wild Beasts and BOBBY playing across town this evening at the Variety Playhouse, as well as Dale Earnhart, Jr., Jr. at the Drunken Unicorn and Modern English at Smith's Olde Bar, but I believe that between Elbow and Glasser, I saw the best show in town this evening.

More pictures will be posted to the Live Site soon.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Night Zazen


After years and years of careful and meticulous observation, Galileo sees that the Earth is not the center of the  Universe, and all of astronomy and philosophy and theology are forever changed.  After more than 20 years of field research and rigorous, pain-staking observation and measurement of natural history, both in his home country and abroad on The Beagle, Charles Darwin grasps the undeniable evidence of evolution and the origin of species, sparking an intellectual and scientific revolution from which there is no turning back.  It is said that Einstein's greatest genius was in his ability to look at the data from physics and applied mathematics in ways that no one before him ever had, and not merely in the ways that were accepted and agreed upon by the scientific community and taught in the universities.  Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha began a long process of contemplation and direct observation of consciousness through meditation, and had a profound awakening to the nature of reality and of the true self.

Zen Master Lingyun Zhiqin had trained and practiced for thirty years. Then one day, while on a ramble in the mountains, he took a rest at the foot of a hill and viewed a village in the distance. It was spring at the time, and, glimpsing the peach blossoms in bloom there, he suddenly awoke to the Way. In accordance with the custom and traditions of his time, he composed a song to express his experience:

For thirty years, I sought for a sword of wisdom:
How many times have leaves fallen and the buds sprouted?
But at one glance at those peach blossoms,
I have arrived directly at the present and have no further doubts.

What was it that Lingyun saw that had such a  profound influence on him?  He once addressed an assembly of monks, stating, "You should all observe the vegetation of the four seasons, the leaves falling and the flowers blooming - events which have gone on for an incalculable eon.  The gods, human kind, all the realms of existence - earth, water, fire, and wind - all of these things come to completion and pass away in the realm of existence.  But when all of cause and effect is exhausted and the nether realms are finished, still throughout the universe not a single hair will have been created or taken away.  There remains only a fundamental numinous consciousness that is eternal."

All of these persons - Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, the Buddha, and Lingyun - all made unexpected and profound discoveries by careful observation, all unencumbered by expectations of what they were going to find.  Galileo did not begin his observation to dispel the idea of a terra-centric universe and Darwin was not in search of evidence to support a predetermined theory.  The Buddha did not know what to expect from his meditative contemplation of consciousness and Lingyun expected nothing from the peach blossoms.

Just observe, see things as they truly are, and be open to discovery.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


After all the time away, it felt great to return to Chattanooga today and share in the sincere and earnest practice of the sangha there.  Ninety minutes of zazen followed by a half-hour dharma talk, lunch, and a pleasant drive both ways.

For those of you who for some reason or another haven't gotten enough of yesterday's East Atlanta Strut pictures and want to see more, but only if they could be of lower quality, I've posted the cell-phone pictures that I took yesterday between pictures with my regular camera over at the Live Site.  

This is getting complicated: while I was up in the Northwest, traveling light without a car or a laptop, I could only post my cell-phone pictures remotely to this blog, but since returning home, I've started posting the higher-resolution pictures taken with my digital camera at the Live Site.  But now that I'm home and have access to all my usual resources and can post the high-res pictures here, I've taken to posting the cell-phone shots over there.

Also, it's taking longer to sort, edit and upload those pictures than I had thought, so at this point, I only have the first two days of Bumbershoot from earlier this month posted at the Live Site, followed by recent (yesterday) pics of the Strut, which will eventually be followed by more Bumbershoot and then MFNW shots, at least in theory.  So much for chronology.  At least I've finally figured out how to use the "cut" feature over on the other site, though, so you don't have to let every picture download now when you click over to there, but can choose to see the larger set of pictures if you want by hitting the "read more. . . " text.