Sunday, January 29, 2012


A little trompe l'oeil in Midtown Atlanta.

Other parts of Georgia are busy with trompe la tĂȘte.  A judge in Cedartown apparently wants President Barack Obama to take a few hours out of his otherwise busy schedule as leader of the free world, visit the Polk County courthouse,  and prove his citizenship to the satisfaction of the judge. Then the president can appear on the 2012 ballot. No big deal, right?

I try not to pay too much attention to the craziness around me, but this flashback to 2008 really takes the cake.  

Friday, January 27, 2012

Akron/Family - "Everyone Is Guilty" with members of the Sun Ra Arkestra - 1.20.12 - The Blockley, Philadelphia

It looks like we may need to re-define our definition of "incredible."  In addition to featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra, this edited video also captures the spirit of the current Akron/Family tour pretty well.   For those wanting more, you can also download a recording of Akron/Family's January 21 set at 285 Kent over at NYC Taper.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Twin Sister - The Earl, Atlanta, Jan. 25, 2012

The band Twin Sister put on a characteristically terrific performance last night at the redoubtable Earl.  Last evening was my third concert of 2012, and following shows at The Drunken Unicorn and Smith's Olde Bar, it's kind of surprising that it's taken me three performances before I managed to make it on over to The Earl.

The first revelation of the night was the opener, Kid Pyramid.  I hadn't heard of him before, and when he came on stage alone and started playing bass to recordings of his own music, I was dubious.  I've seen plenty of bands employ pre-recorded bass or percussion to accompany their live music, but I've never seen anyone play bass live to accompany their pre-recorded music before.  Further, I typically am distrustful of anyone on stage with so much of their music in pre-recorded form - they might just be lip-synching for all I know, and even if not, a lot of the spontaneity of a live set is lost to the dictates of the recordings.  

When John Maus "played" The Earl last year, he at least compensated for his lack of a band by his manic, extreme performing style, and Maus set the bar pretty damn high for anyone else trying to sing on stage to their own recordings.

Kid Pyramid didn't go the John Maus route - no jumping around the stage or pounding his own chest - but he won over the audience, including your humble narrator, by singing his punchy electro-pop songs in a clear voice that rose above the music so that his lyrics could be easily heard and understood.  His Facebook page indicates that Kid Pyramid is "the live, recorded and remix adventures of Ben Coleman from Judi Chicago / Noot d' Noot" (two Atlanta bands), and having framed the concept in that way, it makes sense that he performs the way that he does.

The oddness of the set-up wore off by the second or third song, and thereafter Coleman carried the set - and won over the audience - on the strength of his songs. 

Keeping Myself Amused is a great addition to the proud tradition of rock 'n' roll songs about masturbation, which includes The Who's Pictures of Lily and The Vapors' Turning Japanese.  Kid Pyramid sang his entry like a lounge singer, microphone in hand, stepping off the stage and into the audience, even kneeling down on the floor and then leaning back on his knees like a soul crooner. 

Phone call for Mr. Pyramid.

The Kid Pyramid set was far better than I would have thought, given the apparent limitations of his DIY approach, although I would like to hear these songs played by a full band some day.  But in any event, Mr. Coleman proved himself to be an excellent entertainer and a capable frontman.  The crowd insisted he stay on stage for a final song, a largely improvised number, with lyrics about something he called "the biscuit of my youth."

Kid Pyramid was followed by Brooklyn's Ava Luna.  The band is a sextet featuring three vocalists who frequently exchange lead and backup roles, mixing soulful R&B and quirky indie-pop into their own unique sound. The Village Voice has described them, not inaccurately, as "Stax meets Kraftwerk."  My initial impression on seeing a couple of videos was Dirty-Projectors-meets-Pickwick, but on hearing them live, I'd have to throw in a little Talking Heads and even a dash of Prince.  Not that they're at all imitative of these other band - they write their own songs and seem to be following their own muse.

Several of their songs end with unaccompanied, soulful vocal lines, emphasizing the emotional content of the lyrics, and it's a testament to their showmanship that the club was very nearly silent during these quieter passages.  They're fun to listen to and fun to watch perform, and I suspect that they will be heard from in the near future.  

In what should be an advertisement for Casio, their keyboard got knocked off its stand and fell to the floor twice during their set, once during the setup and again in the middle of a song, and kept on working fine.  Took a lickin' and kept on tickin', as it were.  

Part of the fun of seeing a Twin Sister performance is to see what look singer Andrea Estella will bring with her to the stage.  She's a virtual chameleon, and when she played The Earl back in 2010 she had black hair and wore a shoulderless tube top, and when she played the 529 last year, she had blonde hair and wore a prim, button-up blouse.  I've seen her in videos with her hair all teased out like Stevie Nicks, but when she stepped on the stage last night in a preppy sweater and collared shirt, she let her nearly straight blonde hair fall over her face and shoulders.  I don't know if she's ever looked more adorable than she did last evening (my amateurish photography does not do her justice).

They opened their set as they have in the past with Meet The Frownies, followed by the sassy Bad Street.  Most of their set was culled from their new album, In Heaven.

With every passing year, the band gets tighter and more accomplished, and at last night's concert, Twin Sister played some of the most adventurous and experimental music I've heard from them yet, while still covering their most popular songs faithfully enough to keep the audience happy.  It's very satisfying to hear them continue to grow as musicians and as a band, and all of the touring and constant performing is obviously serving them well.

Ms. Estrella's voice is also getting stronger and more assertive, although I miss some of the breathy, almost whispered singing of the past.  The change was particularly noticeable during All Around and Away We Go from their 2010 EP Color Your Life, one of the few songs played last evening not from In Heaven.  That song in particular was marked by Ms. Estella's airy, almost ethereal, vocals, but performing it last night, her voice was more pointed and assured, creating a new interpretation of the song, although the distinctive disco beat of the signature synthesizer line remained unchanged.

Twin Sister played a nearly 60-minute set to a very enthusiastic audience, ending with a mostly instrumental number that explored Sonic Youth-style noise before settling into The Other Side of Your Face.  They carried the energy of their closing song into their encore, ultimately sending the audience home well past midnight but very satisfied.

Twin Sister are a totally charming and likable band, from the charisma and allure of the lovely Ms. Estella to the workmanlike musicianship of her band.  I feel a special connection with them, as well, not merely due to the number of times I've seen them perform, but to the fact that Ms. Estella and others in the band are from Patchogue, New York, a suburban town on the South Shore of Long Island in which I lived for a couple of years in the mid-1970s.  Those were formative years for me on many levels, but I never expected that a band of this caliber would arise from that unassuming town.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Twin Sister

Patchogue's Twin Sister, the pride of Long Island, play The Earl tonight.  Ava Luna open.  That's really all the information one needs for deciding to attend this show, but here's a video or two for those who need added incentive.

This will be my third time seeing Twin Sister.  I saw them at The Earl back in 2010 after hearing their Color Your Life EP, and was so impressed that I saw them again when they played at 529 in 2011.  They've since released a new full CD titled In Heaven, which singer Andrea Estella told me at 529 they wrote and recorded during the off-season in a summer house they rented in the Hamptons.  The album includes the songs Bad Street (posted here before) and Kimmi In A Rice Field (spooky video above).

The band once wrote that their goal is to make music to which one would feel comfortable cheating on someone, and I felt like I was cheating on them last September during MFNW.  They opened for EMA at Holocene, and while that would have been a great show, I chose to see Suuns, Talkdemonic, and Handsome Furs at Branx instead (I even managed to squeeze in a Damian Jurado set at the nearby Bunk Bar that night).  My point isn't to drop names, though, but to say that my loyalty to Twin Sister is so strong, I literally felt like I was cheating on them by watching other bands that night.

I'm also looking forward to seeing the opening act, Ava Luna.  Just about 100% of what I know about the band is in these two videos, but from what I hear I think that I will like them.  The two songs below suggest a sort of Dirty-Projectors-meet-Pickwick sound - just the sort of thing I'm a sucker for.

Pictures, etc., will be posted here soon.  Meanwhile, enjoy the music, or better yet, come to the show!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


You are already enlightened. All you've got to do is stop blocking yourself and get serious about attending to what's going on. You are not lacking a thing. You only need to stop blocking or interpreting your vision.
- Steve Hagen, Buddhism Plain & Simple

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Night Zazen

Dogen instructed, 
Students of the Way, do not learn the buddha-dharma for the sake of your own egos. Learn the buddha-dharma only for the sake of the buddha-dharma. The most effective way for doing this is to completely throw away your body and mind leaving nothing, and dedicating yourselves to the great ocean of the buddha-dharma. 
Then, without being concerned about right and wrong, without clinging to your own views, even if it is difficult to do or to endure, you should do it being forced to by the buddha-dharma. Even if you really want to do something, you should give it up if it is not in accordance with the buddha-dharma. Never expect to obtain some reward for practicing the Buddha-Way. Once you have moved in the direction of the Buddha-Way, never look back at yourself. Continue practicing in accordance with the rules of the buddha-dharma, and do not hold on to personal views. 
All the examples among past practitioners were like this. When you no longer seek anything on the basis of your (discriminating) mind, you will be in great peace and joy (Nirvana). 
Among lay people too, those who have never kept company with others and have grown up only within their own families, behave as they want, and put priority on fulfilling their own desires. They never think of others’ views and do not care how others feel. Such people are always bad. You have to be careful of the same thing in practicing the Way. Keep company with others in the sangha, and follow your teacher without setting up personal views. If you continue reforming your mind in this way, you will easily become a man of the Way. 
In practicing the Way, first of all, you must learn poverty. Give up fame and abandon profit, do not flatter, and put down all affairs; then you will become a good practitioner of the Way without fail. In Great Song China, those who were known as eminent monks were all poor. Their robes were tattered, and they were short of other provisions. 
When I was at Tendo Monastery, the recorder was a senior monk called Donyo, a son of the prime minister. But, since he had completely left his family, and no longer coveted worldly profit, his robes were so tattered he was hard to look at. His virtue of the Way, however, was known by others and he became the recorder of that great temple. 
Once I asked, “Senior Donyo, you are a son of a high government official and a member of a wealthy and noble family. Why are the things you wear so shabby? Why do you live in such poverty?” 
Senior Donyo replied, “Because I have become a monk” (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 5-2)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

First visit to Chattanooga of this young year.  The weather was foggy and dreary, but the practice alive and vibrant.

We're considering a zazenkai (all day sitting) next month.  Stay tuned for an announcement.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Adron, Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta - January 20, 2012

Atlanta's talented multi-culturalist Adron performed last evening at Smith's Olde Bar, a classic roadhouse on Piedmont Avenue.  The venue's management put the performance on in the upstairs music room, and booked powerkompany to play downstairs in the Atlanta Room, forcing local music fans to have to choose between two worthy performers. As I had mentioned earlier this week, it wasn't an easy decision.  

As is usually the case, my decision was influenced more by outside forces than by personal preference.  One of my neighbors had mentioned that she'd heard about this whole going-out-to-hear-live-music thing that I had going on and was intrigued, and wanted to know if she could tag along with me sometime.  It had been well over 10 years since she had gone out to hear a live band play, she told me, and was ready to give it a try once again.

Naturally, I agreed, and wanted to make sure she had an enjoyable experience, one that she might want to repeat again some time.  So while I'm sure that The Carnivores and The Coathangers  put on a kick-ass show at The Earl last night, I thought that might be a tad too aggressive for someone who hadn't been at a rock concert for 10 years.  Smith's Olde Bar, on the other hand, isn't too far from our neighborhood, serves good food,  and has actual chairs in the performance space (a rare luxury these days).  So having narrowed down the options that far, I chose Adron upstairs over powerkompany downstairs because while I felt that she would probably enjoy both bands, Adron is the more unique and singular performer, the one more likely to make her feel like going out again some future evening.

After eating some dinner downstairs, we found two empty chairs and a table upstairs, and the Wesley Cook Band opened the evening with a set of slightly jazzy folk-rock. 

My neighbor enjoyed their set more than I.  While I appreciated his jazzy approach to the material, Mr. Cook sounded a bit too much like a street-corner busker for my tastes.  

Not that there's anything wrong with buskers.  All music, without exception, is a direct expression of the buddha-dharma, and there are a great many talented musicians out playing for spare change in subways, sidewalks, and shopping centers across the country who deserve a better venue.  But a busker's two-fold problem is that to get the attention of a passerby, they have to constantly be playing crowd-pleasers, and within those crowd-pleasers they have to throw in near continuous hooks.  On top of that, since they're usually playing without amplification, they have to project their voices and instruments as far as they can, and that leaves them no room for any dynamic range.  To play more quietly, they risk losing the audience, and since they're already playing at the top of their lungs, they're left with no opportunity to increase the volume or the energy.  So after a while, everything is played at the same flat dynamic level.

Musicians competing for the attention of a drinking, socializing crowd at a saloon or tavern have the same problem, although possibly aided by more amplification than their street counterparts.  I don't know for a fact if Mr. Cook is from either background - buskering or playing in taverns - but he nevertheless performed in that same, full-tilt, anything-to-keep-the-crowd's-attention style.  Now, far be it from me to want to be entertained, and Mr. Cook did that very well, but after a while I found the stasis of the flat dynamic level tiring.  

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but he chose to cover the late Etta James' At Last, a reliable crowd pleaser, just the sort of thing a busker might play to draw in some passers by. Later in his set, he asked anyone in the audience who's birthday was last night to join him on the stage for a birthday song, just the sort of move a band in a saloon might have to employ to get the crowd to direct their attention to the stage.  In an intimate music room like Smith's upstairs, one can keep an audience engaged by being interesting and original, as Adron did later last night, and does not need to resort to wedding-party covers and photo ops with birthday parties to keep the crowd's attention.  But my neighbor liked them, and there was nothing that I necessarily disliked, other than knowing that they could do better.

The second band of the evening was called Samadha, a play, I think, on the Buddhist term samadhi, although I heard several people in the audience repeat the inevitable line, "What's Samadha you?"  The keyboards-bass-drums trio played a straight-ahead set of improvisational jazz in the groove-seeking style of Medeski Martin & Wood, and, yes, they employed a wide dynamic range as well as varied tempo in their set.

I liked them, although my neighbor, not so much.  The dividing line, I think, has more than anything else to do with one's appreciation of jazz.  If you like MMW, 1970's Miles Davis, or late Soft Machine, you will probably like this band.  If not, then this may not be your thing.  Dissonance and atonality, typical in some schools of jazz, were kept to a minimum, and funk and rhythm predominated.  Keyboardist Chris Case employs some samples in his sound, mixing voices and ambient sounds with his Nord Electro 3, but  generally relies on his playing to carry the groove. 

"Those guy's are introverts," my neighbor surmised after Samadha finished their cerebral set of instrumental jazz-rock. 

Mr. Case stayed on stage after the set to be a part of Adron's band. Adron is Atlanta singer and songwriter Adrienne McCann, who blends the Brazilian TropicĂ lia of Gilberto Gil with the songcraft of Joni Mitchell and Bill Withers to create a wholly original, fresh approach to pop. She has a remarkable voice that can probably fill a room like Smith's even without a microphone as she sings cheerful, clever songs in English, French and Portuguese.  

The two neighbors in the audience, who were divided over the preceding two sets, agreed on Adron's music.  If you don't like her music, you probably don't like sunny days either, or rainbows, or the first sight of the sea on a trip to the beach, or the sounds of birds after the rain.  Speaking of the latter, Adron incorporated that sound into the music by some remarkable whistling during the band's encore.

Ms. McCann is possessed of some extraordinary talent, both as a songwriter and as a performer.  It's a shame that Atlanta doesn't promote her more aggressively, as she deserves and would command a national (or international) audience.  If she lived in, say, New York or Seattle instead of Atlanta, her music would be all over the blogosphere already.  But without the support of a web savvy radio station like Seattle's KEXP or the media intensity of a New York, she still has yet to be discovered by the wider audience that would appreciate her.

Here's a video of her performing about a year ago at Eyedrum:

And this is from last week down at Florida's 30a Songwriter Festival: 

Judging by all the photographers and videographers circling the stage last night, there will probably be videos of last night's performance uploaded sometime soon.

Adron has a new album out, Organismo, from which she drew most of the songs played last night, although she also played some of her earlier songs, such as the delightful Stringsong, as well.  In all, she played a full 60-minute set, plus a two-song encore, while maintaining good cheer and an adorable stage presence throughout.

The Friday-night crowd at Smith's wasn't nearly as large as it could have been, but those of us who stayed throughout the set were demonstratively appreciative of the musical offering presented.  

I believe that if Adron ever gets the chance to tour as the opener for a national act and to be heard by a wider audience, she will become much more widely known and appreciated.  For now, she's still one of Atlanta's better little secrets.

For the record, my strategy worked, and on the drive back to the neighborhood, my neighbor remarked on how much fun it had been to go out and hear live music again. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday Night Videos - Bad Weather California

Here's a video of Bad Weather California posted by their drummer (and Water Dissolves Water commenter) Logan Corcoran performing Let It Shine, the Tequila-like song they opened with last weekend at The Drunken Unicorn, but without the sax player. This might give you a rough approximation of what a fun band this is to hear.

This evening, I chose to go hear Adron play upstairs at Smith's Olde Bar rather than powerkompany downstairs.  Pictures, story and an explanation for my (painful) decision tomorrow!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Geology of Georgia - Part Five of a Very Occasional Series

The Camp Creek

Everyone in Atlanta, well, most everyone in Atlanta, knows Camp Creek, because Camp Creek Parkway is the road that leads from the Perimeter highway to the airport.  But most Atlantans, including me up until today, have never seen the actual Camp Creek.  Here it is:

This section of Camp Creek forms the Clayton-Fayette county line. For some reason, a rather large pond has formed next to the creek:

There are high bluffs south of Camp Creek along this stretch that are supported by bedrock of the Late Proterozoic to Middle Ordovician Stonewall Gneiss, a gray to grayish-brown to dark-gray, medium- to coarse-grained, commonly schistose, generally pegmatitic, feldspar gneiss that locally contains small, red garnets.  Outcrops are  rare, even on steep hillsides, except for along large streams like Camp Creek.

Up on the top of the bluff, I explored some old homes and other interesting structures.