Thursday, May 31, 2012

Prostrating to the Marrow of Attainment

"There are in our country daughters of emperors, or ministers’ daughters who become queens’ consorts, or queens who are titled with the names of temples. In any case, those who are monks in appearance only and who crave fame and love gain, never fail to run to the house of such a woman and strike their head at her clogs.  They are far inferior to serfs following a lord.  Moreover, many of them actually become her servants for a period of years.  How pitiful they are.  Having been born in a minor nation in a remote land, they do not even know a bad custom like this for what it is. There was never such ignorance in India and China,   but only in our country. It is lamentable." - Zen Master Dogen, from Raihai-tokuzui (Chapter 8 of the  Shobogenzo), 1240  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


In unrelated news, following the somewhat disappointing (to me at least) line-up announced for this year's Bumbershoot music festival in Seattle (Tony Bennett, Skrillex, etc.), today Portland's MusicFest NorthWest (MFNW) released their lineup for the following week.

Their headliners start strong with the "world music-tinged indie folk" of Beirut on Friday, September 7, followed by the slightly perplexing decision to headline "mashup superstar" Girl Talk on Saturday, September 8 and the somewhat pedestrian choice of LA's "shoegazing alternative rockers" Silversun Pickups on Sunday, September 9.  Still, it's a far better set of headliners than at Bumbershoot this year, even if Bumbershoot's already tried to prop up its cred by adding Goyte and Eight and a Half (side project of members of Broken Social Scene), and by promising future announcements of still more artists.  

I've already seen MFNW headliners Beirut during last fall's Rocktober, and saw the Silversuns open for Muse back in March 2010, but it's the undercard that really intrigues me.  In addition to the headliners, this year's MFNW performers will include showcase performances by Passion Pit, The Tallest Man On Earth, and The Helio Sequence, as well as shows featuring Menomena (whom I thought had broken up), Trampled By Turtles, Typhoon (Portland's indie-rock orchestra), Black Mountain (one of my favorite bands since at least '05), Future Islands, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, John Maus (the most electrifying performer I've ever seen), Moonface, Omar Souleyman, I Break Horses, Tanlines, Trust, the spooky Chelsea Wolfe, Blouse, Julia Holter, Gardens & Villa, The Soft Moon, These United States, Daughn Gibson, Mrs. Magician (who opened for Cults at The Earl), And And And, Craft Spells (whom I saw last year at Bumbershoot), Lake (last year at Bumbershoot), Lemolo (ditto), and a whole bunch more musicians I haven't even heard of yet.

So all that certainly makes the decision to head back out west this September a lot more rewarding.  While the Bumbershoot lineup, at least as announced thus far, isn't quite so much disappointing as uninspired, the following week's lineup at MFNW is inspired and strong, and I'd probably fly west just on the promise of  Beirut, Black Mountain, Menomena, and John Maus alone.

Monday, May 28, 2012

One day in a speech Dogen said,
 Daido Kokusen said,  “Sitting in the wind and sleeping in the sun is better than wearing rich brocades like people today.” Although this is a saying of an ancient master, I have some doubts about it. Does “people today” refer to worldly people who covet profit? If so why did he mention it? It is most stupid to compete with such people. Or does it refer to people who are practicing the Way? If so, why did he say doing what he did was better than wearing brocades? As I examine his frame of mind, it sounds as if he still values brocades.  
The sages were not like this. They attached themselves neither to gold and jewels, nor to broken tiles and pebbles. Therefore Shakyamuni-Tathagata accepted fine milk gruel offered by the cowmaid, as well as coarse grain used to feed horses. He accepted both with equanimity. In the buddha-dharma, there is nothing valueless nor valuable, yet among people there is shallow and profound.  
Nowadays, when people are given gold and jewels, they consider them valuable and refuse them. But if they are given wood or stone, they consider such things cheap, so they accept them and hold attachment to them. Gold and jewels have been taken from the earth, wood and stone also come from the earth. Why do people refuse one because it is expensive and covet the other because it is cheap? When I inquire into such a mind, it would seem that if they obtained something expensive they would worry about building attachment to it. However, even if they acquire something cheap and love it, they will be guilty of the same fault. Students should be careful about this.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Concert Pics From the Month of May

I've been so phenomenally busy since the beginning of the month, I haven't had the time to post any concert pics (other than the Tunes form the Crypt benefit). The manic activity, including two weeks spent in Birmingham, Alabama, have been good from a business perspective, but have been exhausting.  I'm thrilled that my new business venture is taking off so well, but I'm also spent.  Today was the first day in a while I've had any time at all to do anything at all with my waking hours rather than work, so I figured I'd upload and post these pics before they got too old.

Back on May 12th, I saw Baltimore's Beach House play the Georgia Theater over in Athens.  Beach House have a distinctive dream-pop sound, reminiscent of Cocteau Twins and Stereolab, while still maintaining their own identity.  They played a near-perfect set, expertly executed and flawlessly mixed by the Georgia Theater sound system.  Singer Victoria Legrand's unusual-sounding voice - deeper than you'd expect, but at the same time gentle and soothing - rose above the instruments and could be heard clearly.  They also got a lot of mileage from their minimalist stage setting, which looked at first like a mere set of planks, but with changing lights surprised with many different colors and effects.

Meanwhile, back in Atlanta, Austin's Shearwater opened for St. Vincent at the Variety Playhouse on May 19.

I've seen Shearwater twice before, both times at The Earl, the most recent show during last spring's March Madness.  But due to the epic sweep of their music and the strength of their compositions, I would gladly listen to then again and again, and although the Variety Playhouse is a less intimate venue than The Earl, it was a treat seeing them on a big stage and in front of a larger crowd.  Singer Jonathan Meiburg's voice is seemingly incapable of sounding anything less than epic, and together with the dramatic, propulsive sound of his band, Shearwater's music somehow makes me feel like running out and setting fire to a Viking ship or something.

Is there a more subversive musician in indie rock today than Annie Clark of St. Vincent?  Her waifish appearance and pretty voice beguile the listener into expecting sweet, pretty little songs and melodies, but in the middle of a number she's apt to surprise the audience and unleash a snarling guitar solo.  And even the lyrics to the seemingly innocent songs hint at a darker view of a world bordering on madness.  "I spent the summer on my back," she croons to open the song Surgeon, but one quickly discovers that instead of spending that summer making love, she was instead the object of surgery.  And the complexity is deeper than that - in her stage banter before the song, she revealed that it was inspired by a line from Marilyn Monroe's diary, in which she wrote to her acting coach Lee Strasberg, "Surgeon, cut me open."  In a sense, she employs a strategy similar to Weasels Ripped My Flesh-vintage Frank Zappa - she sets the listener up with an inviting opening melody, only to confound with her lyrics and then ambush the unsuspecting with bizarre pedal effects and distorted guitar lines.  On stage, her "tell," as poker players would say, was that before tearing it up on guitar, she would gingerly take an almost comical series of little stutter steps back away from the microphone in her platform heels. But she still surprised everyone when from the edge of the stage she turned her back to the audience and then fell backwards to surf the crowd, even while still continuing to sing.  After the crowd returned her to the stage, she turned around and dove back in again, both literally and symbolically sacrificing herself to the audience.

The following week (May 23), JBM opened for Damian Jurado at The Earl.  JBM is the band name for singer/songwriter Jesse Marchant of Montreal, who plays acoustic guitar and sings about subjects including "personal experience and the familiarity with loss."  I hadn't heard him before, but he commanded an intense and serious presence on stage, and seemed to sing from direct experience.

I've seen Damian Jurado twice before, a couple of years ago at The Earl and last September at Portland's Bunk Bar during Music Fest Northwest.  On both occasions, he performed solo with his acoustic guitar, sitting on a chair, playing exquisitely crafted songs and ballads like Cloudy Shoes and Arkansas.  His latest album, Maraqopa, hinted at a greater dynamism and I was looking forward to hearing him with a full band, but I don't think anyone expected the performance he delivered.  He opened with the psychedelic rocker Nothing Is the News, standing shoeless at the mic in his socks as the band tore it up, before settling into only slightly more familiar folk-rock territory.  He occasionally danced around the stage a little, sliding in his stocking feet, and was far more energetic that I would ever have expected. But he literally blew minds with his closing number, a gospel barnburner during which he declared that his days singing sad, depressing songs are over, and that from now on, he's moving toward the light.  "No more singer songwriter," he declared.  He repeated this vow before his encore set, saying that he's finished with being sad and that from here on in, he's all about happiness.  "Seriously," he assured the audience, "you can laugh if you want, but those days are over."  To say this was a transitional performance for Mr. Jurado would be an understatement.  It was akin to Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival (but with cheers and applause rather than booing).  He closed the evening with a reverent and moving rendition of Arkansas, all the more poignant because no one knows if they'll ever hear him sing it again.