Friday, February 28, 2014

Concert Review: Dave Hause

Since I already did a band review for Dave Hause back in October, I want to focus on things specific to the show.

I had never been to the Hawthorne Theatre or Lounge before, and I was pretty impressed with the separation of the spaces. There was a very loud T Mills show in the theater, and every now and then someone would open a door and you could kind of hear the beats, but basically their night did not intrude on ours, and that was a good thing.

The lounge was a more intimate space than I was expecting, and I have it on good authority that the PA system sucks, but I felt like the acoustics were good. The music filled the space well,and there was an overall feeling of warmth that was helped by the bands and the venue staff.

It was a pretty stripped down gig. Steve Nobles and Northcote were both one man with a guitar. When Dave Hause took the stage, he took it with his kid brother Tim, doubling the band size, but even so, Tim was only up there for some of the songs.

There was a flexibility and togetherness that worked. Not only did Tim keep getting on and off the stage, but at one point Northcote's John Goud came up and helped on another number, as well as a representative from Dave's label, Rise Records. Dave suddenly took over the keyboard on "The Great Depression", and it was beautiful and poignant and a different way of seeing the song.

It's not that there wouldn't be benefits in a bigger setup, with more crew and stage, but what there was worked really well, and it felt like an amazingly grateful version of "The Shine".  These are people who appreciate each other. Tim at times seemed very much the callow youth, but he did win my heart in the way he wholeheartedly enjoyed Northcote's performance, singing along and not being aloof.

It makes the shows good, but it may also have benefits on the road. Knowing that they have been touring at a fast pace through the frozen North, everyone's energy and spirits seemed really good, and Dave was in great voice. Some of the circumstances may not be ideal, but they are really handling it well.

The set was a good representation of Devour. It was not completely devoid of older material, but I did not get "C'mon Kid" or "Pray For Tucson", which I had wanted. "Bricks" evokes some of the same emotions of "Pray For Tucson" though, and ultimately, it was a good set. This was a good show.

There are still several opportunities to catch them. You can check the schedule at

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Concert Review: Northcote

The Northcote and Dave Hause reviews will probably bleed into each other quite a bit. They were a good match, but the primary difference for me was that I had listened to Dave Hause quite a bit, which is what brought me there, and had never heard of Northcote.

In preparing for the concert I had been listening to Northcote via Spotify this week, and I didn't feel like I had a grasp on it. Between the doors opening and the show starting there was one other performer, Steve Nobles, and he mentioned watching Northcote on Youtube. That is probably a better introduction. While there are not as many songs, you get to hear his voice through the parts of a brief documentary, and see some of his projects, and his personality.

Seeing him live is where everything coalesced. First of all, just that it was him and not them was unexpected, because I really thought I saw a picture of a four man band somewhere. Matt Goud is the "him", and he explained that when playing around Canada he had lineups with different sizes, but it was too expensive to do that for the extended tour, which makes a lot of sense.

Suddenly there was a face and name, but also the personality comes through more in person, and I can't overstate how powerful that is. Initially I was thinking that Goud has a big personality, but that implies some things that weren't exactly right, and then I realized that he reminded me of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Dickens described the ghost as apparently changing size so that he fit quite comfortably whether it was a giant banquet hall or a small hut, and Goud is kind of like that. He seems pretty tall, but it is more the adaptability and the ease. I believe that whatever the size of the hall, he would adapt to fill it, and he would be comfortable doing so.

Having now heard the songs live, they took more distinctive shapes listening again. That's not to say that you should wait to listen until you can hear him live, but I think it's worth checking out the Youtube channel.

Here are some thoughts from the CD I bought last night, Northcote, which has been playing all day.

The intro to "How Can You Turn Around" immediately sounds like you are heading into a good road trip sound track. There are certainly downbeats, and there is a very personal feeling to them. The use of names on "Burn Right Past Them All" and "Speak Freely" feels intensely real. I don't know if it is because of his talking about his small town upbringing last night that the sense of isolation rings through at times, or if it would anyway. For all that, it is not a down album. "Only One Who Knows" ends on a feeling of joyful collaboration. That all being said, I think "Drive Me Home" is my favorite.

Worth checking out. Music is available through iTunes and Amazon.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Every voice

When things that seem important work on multiple levels or in multiple directions, that resonates with me. It seems hopeful that correcting in one way will fix multiple things. I guess you could call it synergy, but just now I was thinking that maybe life is fractal.

One thing that has been pointed out lately is that we don't seem to believe people with a problem until someone not affected weighs in. People are more likely to accept stories of sexual harassment in the comics world when a male confirms it, beyond the word of those hysterical females. We pay attention when someone who does not have to live on food stamps tries to survive on that budget, though their experience will not take into account factors like food deserts and the sheer exhaustion of living in poverty.

Because I had also been thinking about the issues of minority representation in media and entertainment, my thoughts were working along the lines of how we really need to hear from everyone; every voice needs to speak and be heard.

The posts for December 30th through January 1st kind of went that way, where the problem looked different depending on which side of it you were on, but seemed to require the same solution, which was more speaking up. I mention that mainly because the first post, on authenticity, works as a companion to this week's writing about honesty. We need to get things out for our own sake, but it is necessary for society too.

The other theme I keep coming back to is the need for creativity, to where I was starting to put them together in my head. That kind of works - you can talk about creative self-expression - but they are still not automatically synonymous.

I can have a conversation with a friend where I pour my heart out, and where opinions are expressed, and that is not really creative, unless we broaden the definition so that it includes the creation of memories, or strengthening a friendship is counted as part of the creation of a friendship, or the creation of a healthier, broader mind.

Conversely, I can follow a pattern and knit a sweater that looks just like another sweater that someone else designed, and I have made something, but that is not really self-expression, unless we broaden the definition to say that just my choosing to learn to knit, and put the time in there, and choosing that specific pattern counts as an expression of self.

Regardless, the two work well together. With a lot of the crafts where you are following patterns, you can get kind of meditative during that process, and have many thoughts, and perhaps you will work out some of the things that I do by journal writing.

Also, there is that sense of accomplishment when you are done: I made this. Not everyone can do it. It takes some mastery to be able to do other things. Crafters often turn their output into gifts, and strengthen relationships that way.

At the same time, talking to someone, and getting out your thoughts and feelings, can build confidence, where you may feel more free to try out some art. It may give you ideas of things that you want to convey, where you look for other means of expressing them.

I favor writing as my means of creative self-expression, because it works for me. I have at times used it very deliberately for therapy, and there have been many times when I thought I was just writing but it was therapeutic. However, if I can feel that I need to write, and there are specific things that I need to write, or start feeling like I need to draw or play bass, then it stands to reason that other people can be guided down the paths they need as well.

It's a very easy voice to shut out. There can be work and family responsibilities that wear you out, and then the most passive entertainment sounds like a really good idea. And I watch plenty of television, so I get that, but make room for the other things too. I am constantly finding new levels of how important it is.

See, I have just now slipped into emphasizing the creative side versus the self-expression side, while knowing that they are equally important. That could be due to it being common for people to not feel that they are creative, or can be, while it should always be very natural to speak one's mind. There are a lot of voices out their trying to shout down yours, though, and it can be easy to believe they are right. Don't.

Especially don't believe them if they are wealthier or more popular, more powerful than you. It is entirely possible that their power depends upon your continued silence, which would be very unlikely if they were using their power well.

I know I will be coming back here multiple times, and getting into how it relates to power, and recognition, and many other things. For now, my message is merely that you have value, and there are things inside you that have value. It will benefit you to get them out.

So think, feel, talk, write, draw, paint, dance, and sing. Knit and bake and scrapbook.

Speak. Create. Repeat.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Such a lonely word

As I keep returning to the importance of honesty, I don't want to give an elevated impression of myself. Yes, I am very honest, but it wasn't a deliberate thing.

It's not that I was an inveterate liar either. I suspect my childhood level of honesty was pretty normal, where I would try to avoid admitting things that embarrassed me or would get me in trouble, but not lying just for the sake of it, or doing that many things that would get me in trouble. There are two specific incidents that stick in mind.

One happened about a year after high school, when I called in sick to work because I wanted to go down to a Duck game. I had a ticket and a ride, and I really wanted to go, and the supervisor up to that point had been really spiteful about time off requests.

The problem is that the spiteful one was no longer in charge, so I lied to someone who might have given me the time off, and I felt guilty about deceiving her. I had to confess. I remember this as a turning point, because confessing was really embarrassing. Lying just wasn't worth it, and things that might make me want to lie were probably not worth it.

The other lie that sticks out happened in 5th or 6th grade, when a girl started ragging on me about shopping at K-Mart, and I said we shopped at Sears. One problem with that defense is that Sears really wasn't that cool either. Regardless, while we did shop at Sears sometimes, we shopped at K-Mart a lot more, and sometimes even at Goodwill.

Somewhere between then and now, I learned that it is completely acceptable to say "None of your business!" Deciding to be honest does not mean that everyone gets to know everything about you. Something that is important in there, however, is getting rid of shame. Shame is useful if you are doing something wrong and should change it, but so often we feel it for things that don't really matter, and can't be changed, and then it's destructive.

Her bugging me shouldn't have bugged me. I didn't care about clothes. I was fine with what I wore, and I didn't really think about where I shopped until she brought it up, but I let that make me feel like something less. It's such an arbitrary thing to base your value on what animal you have stitched on your shirt. At some point it became a liberating thing to be okay with not caring. I was not confident enough as an 11 year old to say "So?", but it would have been good for me.

Actually, now I am remembering something else that was not strictly honest. It was in junior high, and another girl, an older one, started bugging me about some way in which I was unattractive. It was probably my weight, but I don't remember, and the reason it didn't sear itself into my soul is because I stood up to her.

Usually I think of this story as an example of how I only internalized the things I pretended to ignore, but technically honesty does play a role. What I said was "I wouldn't talk with that face," which I think I was using to imply that she looked stupid, not that she looked ugly, but either way, that was not true. She would be considered more attractive than me, certainly. However, she took what I said really personally, despite it only being a probably inaccurate response to something she started. If her friend had not pulled her away, it looked like hitting would have followed.

I feel a certain amount of pride in this, even though my behavior was not admirable, because I had found some confidence. I knew I could take her, and I wasn't going to take it from her. Asserting yourself is valuable, and it is one step in being true to yourself.

I may have come by my honesty accidentally, but if I seem a little obsessed with it now, that is not me neurotically protecting myself from guilt, that is learning how valuable honesty is.

Because I have not been comfortable lying, I give my opinions honestly. That asserts that my thoughts and feelings have value; they are not something to be disregarded.

Because I am not comfortable lying, my speech is straightforward. Often when people use words wrong, they are trying to make something sound fancier, when it doesn't even need it (especially with "infer"). Of course, I do get really irritated with people who ask "Only fine?" "Only okay?" Fine is positive, and there are many people who would love to be fine but aren't. Deal with it.

I bring up kind a lot too, but kindness and honesty go together. Most of the people who are being really cruel or at least dismissive of others, are ignoring facts, or twisting them. When you really look at the world, and at people, there is a lot of room for compassion.  

Perhaps the most important aspect for me is that there is nothing left to be afraid of. The blog has been good for that. I am writing about things to work out my thoughts and understand them, but at the same time I am sharing them. There are a lot of things that hurt me when they were locked inside. Out there, you discover there's nothing that can't be faced.

Monday, February 24, 2014

More music writing

If you have been keeping track, you may have expected some music writing anecdotes last week, and that didn't end up happening. What I was trying to get at turned out to be more complex than I thought, or at least my path to it was more complex, and so, I am once again off schedule. This is so normal.

Anyway, I do have some things I can say. It will probably still be pretty disorganized.

I am almost done with this phase of daily songs. That was just going to be a run of Halloween videos, but I was realizing how many great songs there were, and so I started going through the Guitar Sampler play list and the Best Bridges one. While that was going on, Farewell My Love was promoting their music video, and a few bands I had reviewed were coming out with new stuff, and I thought that I should promote them.

I went through my reviewed bands spreadsheet and made a list of bands to use. Not everyone made it, but a lot did. There were some where maybe they are not my favorite, but still, they are doing a good job at what they do, or I have personal affection for them, and so I couldn't leave them out.

That's the amazing thing. I have reviewed 117 bands. There have been two where I felt like they were bad people and it was affecting the music, a few where I felt they had insufficient depth for making their music good, and a few where what they are doing is not really bad but just not my thing. Otherwise, there have been a lot I love or like or can at least appreciate. That's been pretty cool.

Right now, I have two from the reviewed list that have not been done yet, so Torche and Closer to Closure get songs Tuesday and Wednesday. Wednesday night I will see Northcote and Dave Hause, and they will get the Thursday and Friday songs, which wraps up rather neatly. After that, I feel like I want to get in some of the songs from the Greatest Guitar Songs list and comments that did not make it into the sampler. Specifically, I will probably focus on the things that came out in the Women Rock and You Get A Gold Star posts, but I'll look over all my notes. It was a good project, and I learned a lot, so it bears going back. 

I will be reviewing new bands the whole time, and I hope to have similar luck, and I suspect when the Emo listening is done, there will be a few songs out of that. Also, right as we hit Valentine's Day I started regretting not compiling any love songs, because there were some contenders, and the last time I did that was so fruitful. However, a friend informs me that in Brazil they celebrate it in summertime. Lots of stores do Christmas in July; I can do Valentine's in June. We'll see. There's a lot of music out there.

Something happened last week with my band reviews that relates to my previous points about criticism and future points about honesty. I had one hip hop artist and one hardcore band. I do not love either of these genres.

I have questioned whether it is fair to even review them, because I am not as familiar, and I hate giving negative reviews. Still, only reviewing bands I like seems wrong, and I learn from trying the stuff that I don't expect to like. I find things that work about hardcore, even though I never pull it up for pleasure listening. I have found rap that I like, though it tends to be pretty old school.

So, it feels like for me to be a better writer, and for my writing to have any relevance, I need that stretching. It also means sometimes there are negative reviews, and the rapper got one that was pretty harsh. I debated just not sending it to him, or only doing it via DM, but apparently you can sent links via DM, so I did.

The first response was " well everyone has a right to there opinion, thanks for the review I guess. I'll try to take what constructive and use it". Later he re-tweeted my blog with " WTF moment of the year. Thx for your time tho", following that quickly with " thought I would retweet since you took the time to write about me, even if it is random as all hell and super negative, lol."

Actually, I think that is pretty gracious, and it brings up something that maybe you don't like the negative review, but still having someone write something about you matters. Having someone pay attention to you resonates.

There are basically two kinds of compliments that I get on my music reviews. One is when they compliment my accuracy ("spot on", "nailed it"), which I love. The other is that I will get feedback like "fair" and "honest", and I wasn't sure what to make of the honest at first. Having read some bad music writing, it makes more sense.

There was a bunch of noise recently about snark versus smarm. There is one summary with some links at

In the referenced Tom Scocca article, he quotes Dave Eggers saying " I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me, and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy."

Scocca's criticism of smarm is valid, and his criticism of Eggers. And Eggers has a point as well, because I do not doubt that there was something smelly inside of him that came out in fetid criticisms. I just feel like they are all missing the point.

There is an element of snark that is gleeful about finding fault. It is not hard to slip from that into losing perspective, and valuing the nastiness over the accuracy. Too much emphasis on niceness can end up missing the point too. Maybe instead of an emphasis on whether the review is mean or nice there should be some focus on whether the review is accurate. Is it helpful?

Of course I come back to honesty, because that is my thing and I will write about that more tomorrow. Part of that honestly is knowing that with taste there is more than one truth. Tool fills me with rage but they have fans.

When I review a band, I try and make it helpful. I try and make it helpful to the reader to know whether they are likely to enjoy the band, and how to find the music, and I try and make it helpful to the band if I see areas for improvement. Okay, the one band did seem to do a snarky indirect, but I have also had bands engage with me, and defend things, and I respect that. They should believe in their band and their music. I respect that, but also my attempt to be fair is about respect. There are real people here, who are doing something creative, and I am going to give them a fair shake.

And, given the long lead time in reviews, I am usually kind of fond of them by the time we get to the review. Sometimes it's different. Right now there is one guy - his review is probably about four months out, and everything about him screams "Tool!" When I get there and start listening, it may all seem different, and he could win me over. Or, my instincts may be verified, and it will be a relief to get the review done and never have to listen to him again. But writing a scathing review will not be a relief, because I will feel badly about that, so probably there will be nothing delightfully poisonous, but I hope just an accurate assessment what the music is like, and maybe what could be different.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Band Review: Closer to Closure

There are some similarities with yesterday's review. I did hold off on this review. There were some scheduling issues, and they got bumped because they had the longer catalog. However, that was a mistake. Spotify lists three albums, but after listening through Rebirth, it switched to something piano-driven and kind of insipid (there was a Michael Buble cover).

Rebirth does have some piano, but this just sounded like a different band. In other information about this band, it refers to Rebirth as their debut album. The other two albums must be someone else with the same name, so that is something to keep in mind.

The other similarity is that I don't love hardcore as a genre. Well, they list themselves as rock, but there is the growling and pounding that I associate with core. Still, I can generally find things to appreciate more easily than I can with hip hop, and that continues to be the case.

The music is executed well, but what I really like is this delicate touches that come in at various points and soften it. It may be two voices joined in harmony or tinkling keyboards, but there is usually more than just the growl. Standouts for that are "New Directions" and "Dead Ringer".

Rebirth is available from iTunes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Band Review: J-Xile

I've been putting this one off. J-Xile is local, which makes me want to be supportive, but I have a natural aversion to rap, and having clicked a few times, I was quickly turned off.

I decided to quit putting it off, and I thought it was just going to be my most negative review in a while, but as luck would have it, De La Soul recently had a promotion where you could download their music, and I have been listening to them recently, which reminds me that I don't automatically hate rap.

Also, one reason my rule is to listen to the content at least three times is that you don't hear everything the first time, and an appreciation can build up. So, I do hate him less now than I did Monday, but I still do not like him, and in going over why that is I will be writing in general about rap as well as specifically about J-Xile.

One of my first objections was that all of the tracks sounded the same. That is a common first listen issue, and sure enough, I now know that is not exactly true. "Spitten My Game" and "We Out Here" do some different things, and there is some variety. Overall though, the sound is depressed and monotonous. It's like the generic background for some movie or television spot that wants to convey you are in the hood. I think there's some Coolio influence.

I was also put off by the profanity. I usually don't mention this, partly because I know I am rare in caring about it, and it is very common, but also I know that there is often a point to it. For this, it felt repetitive and pointless. My first thought was that the language was lazy.

Then there is the photo. J-Xile is a white guy, and there is a small part of me that unfairly thinks "poser" with that, but that's not fair, and also, I do like the Beastie Boys, and I don't like Eminem, but I know that he raps well (and with a lot of profanity). Knowing all of that, it still wasn't sitting right with me, and I started to focus on the facial expression.

The eyes look dead. There is not an angry snarl, or a cocky sneer, or any expression at all. So I think what eventually go to me was the lack of passion. This is music. There should be something alive to it. And that is just one picture, but it pops up multiple times. If it is not an accurate presentation, get a new one, or at least take down this one.

That's kind of where it all makes sense for me. If there was passionate intensity and commitment to getting it right, then no one should be thinking lazy or monotonous or pointless. So I think the answer in this case is to start caring about something and let that infuse the life and the music.

In terms of the actual performance of the words and beats, there is nothing wrong with them, but they're not doing anything. And I fully admit that this is not my preferred area, so for someone who is really into hip-hop this might sound good. I think it's deficient, but not hopeless.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Feminist infighting

This title does not really feel accurate, but it's succinct while getting close, so I'm going for it.

If you haven't noticed, my last two posts have been unusually short, and the reason that's been happening is that I have this unusually messy thing that I am trying to get at, and to be coherent I have only taken small chunks. Now I think it's just time to be messy.

I wrote about intersectionality a while back, but there has been more going on. I don't think it is a good use of my time to go over the history of the conflicts, because I am late to the game. There is plenty of information that is out there, and it has been said well. There are things that bother me, and I am just going to get them off my chest in no particular order.

First of all, back to that bullying thing. If you are the one in power, you are not being bullied. If articles about it quote the white feminists but all of the feminist of color are unnamed sources, the cited people are not getting bullied. If you get paid to write an article about how mean the internet is to you, and you have a syndicated column and legislative contacts and corporate sponsorships, a hash tag that spoofs your slogan in a manner pointing out its deficiencies is not bullying. Some people get inundated with death threats and rape threats, which takes a huge emotional toll. It's important to keep some perspective.

Also, beyond not every attack being bullying, not every criticism is an attack. I say this as someone who truly hates criticism. It doesn't matter how nice you are about it, I am withering inside, because I will be mortified to find out I was in error. Okay, if you are deliberately mean, that would be worse, so I guess it does matter, but my point is that you cannot completely remove the sting. While I recognize that as a hang up on my part, no one really loves being criticized.

Here's the thing: if you do correct me on something, no matter how much I am cringing inside, I am not going to make that your problem. I am going to listen, and if the correction is valid I am going to agree and try and fix it. That's simply the adult thing to do. Perpetuating an error to spare my feelings, especially for something that matters, would be ridiculous. I will recover and I will grow from it. This is a totally normal part of maturity.

I don't think the intentions are generally bad, but they shouldn't be so clueless. Really, there were tweets from people saying they were scared to speak up because they might be criticized. How can you possibly be effective as any kind of activist if you're scared someone might say something mean to you? If you're going to be that delicate, you're reinforcing the stereotype of women being delicate and needing male protection, just as men who excuse rape perpetuate an image of men as brutes with no self-control. It's baffling, and I have to think they aren't really thinking it through.

That lack of thinking then carries through to their efforts, where some things can cause a lot of harm. It's probably not intentional, but that's all the more reason to listen. If all of your solutions for violence against women involve strengthening law enforcement, but women in some communities are being assaulted by law enforcement, what have you done? If in order to protect children you make it a crime for a women to stay with the abuser, but you don't provide resources and support for her to leave, what then?

While this wasn't the beginning or the end of the conflict, a lot of it centered around a group of women meeting to plot how to use the internet for advancing feminism, and part of that was how they could get funded. The criticism came from the exclusion of various groups and geographies, certainly, but I think there are some important things about the funding aspect.

One of the reasons Twitter has become so important for this is because it is free and open to anyone. You do need internet access, but that is relatively easy to obtain - much easier than knowing the right people and having the right connections.

People who are creating helpful dialogues (and hash tags) on Twitter are not getting paid to do so. That may limit the amount of time they spend at it, but you can't doubt their passion, and that they are in the trenches somewhere, teaching or in school, or whatever their occupation is, may actually give them a better understanding of what these needs are. No women on the board of directors is a legitimate concern, but I think it is more urgent that indigenous women go missing and no one cares. Food deserts are more pressing. Events that have corporate sponsors tend to be less progressive, and there's a reason for that.

There are really so many things I could bring up here, and it probably would not be valuable, but this is my main thought.

If your work, whether on behalf of people of color or women or any other group, has been about getting yourself a better place in the hierarchy, and then maintaining that place, you are part of the problem. Stop.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Nice and Kind

These words are not the same. We use them interchangeably, but the differences are important.

"Nice" was originally used as a synonym for "neat". There is a part in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey where Henry is teasing Catherine for praising a novel as "the nicest book" and saying it must depend on the binding.

There is a little conversation there about whether he is being too picky, or whether not being picky causes the word to lose its value, and that's a cool discussion to have. I am totally down with that.

I do feel like despite using the words in various ways, there are connotations that remain. If feels to me like we use "nice" more for "pleasant", indicating some focus on the appearance, and that usually "kind" conveys more of a feeling of generosity coming from the heart. We focus too much on being "nice".

I don't actually have anything against things being neat, orderly, and pleasant, but if we are trying to make them seem pleasant when they are not, there's a problem. Putting a fresh coat of paint and adding landscaping to a safe and comfortable house is great. Trying to use paint and flowers to mask rotting wood and an unstable foundation is not cool.

Looking up the word origins, "nice" comes from the Latin nescius, meaning ignorant or incapable. Even better, the way that works is that you have a negative prefix with the word for "to know", scire, which gives us science.

It would probably be carrying things too far to think that the Romans were saying that you can only think things are nice if you are ignorant, or that niceness is for losers. I am not cynical enough to think either of those things either.

I am not even cynical enough to think that every time someone complains about someone else not being nice, that they are doing it in a deliberated attempt to stifle a discussion that needs to be had, or to maintain a position of power. Except, that is a little cynical because thinking that sometimes people are kind of stupid and self-absorbed rather than devious is not super positive. Still, a reasonable response to a request for niceness is "Why?"

I see that as a reasonable response only if kindness is already present, because that is actually important. We need kindness to each other, and to other life, and to the planet. Part of that kindness is that we will face facts. We do look at science. We do look at the impact on people who are not us. We do it with a good heart, but with a good brain too.

There is a phrase that periodically comes to me, "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Both of those things are important. "Nice" will not do the second, and even if it will try the first, "kind" will do a better job.

Monday, February 17, 2014


I was watching an episode of "Judge Judy" with feuding neighbors. There had been various issues, but one incident had involved one child shoving another in the bathroom and injuring him. The child who shoved claimed that the other had been bullying him, and Judy disagreed with that because the other child was smaller.

I don't doubt for a minute that the smaller child was harassing the bigger one, constantly saying aggravating things. That can be really frustrating. There's a special stress that comes with taking abuse that you should be able to stop, but would get in trouble for doing so. Some older siblings really understand this, and some just get into trouble.

If we are going to specifically focus on bullying, though, it implies an imbalance of power. Maybe that person is physically bigger and more dangerous, or maybe they control your working situation, or maybe it is multiple people working together so that not only is the subject outnumbered but it feels like society is united against you.

I think we are overusing the word. That's not to say that bullying doesn't happen a lot; it does. When it becomes an all-purpose word though, it can get used wrong, and even when it would be an applicable word, as a label it oversimplifies it. One larger kid picking on a smaller child on the playground would be dealt with differently than a group of teen girls sending abusive texts.

In addition, labeling the ones on the abusive side as bullies oversimplifies them. There may be several weak people following one leader, there could be someone with emotional issues who needs to learn different ways of expression, but that label "bully" reduces it to simply "You're bad." (And, they may either internalize that or not believe it at all.)

I get hung up on word use a lot. I'm a highly verbal nerd, so that comes naturally to me, but also, words are the basis of our communication. There are ways of getting things across non-verbally, but even then, we are probably thinking things about the non-verbal communication via words. Using words correctly is important for us to understand each other, and for any growth that we can make.

Therefore, it bothers me when people use words incorrectly. I don't like it when they use words wrong because they don't really know the meaning, but usually they are not the only ones, and it's a common issue, and we can work on that.

I really dislike it when people use language specifically for the purpose of deceiving. That's just evil.

Somewhere in between is a mix when people may believe that they are using a word correctly. They're not exactly being dishonest on purpose, but their dishonesty is possible because through various combinations of entitlement, hypocrisy, or self-righteousness, they don't get it and it works well for them to get it.

That's sort of where we're heading next, and it's not really about the teenagers. I do think about bullying and abuse in terms of the teens, but it has been even more frustrating seeing the poor examples we set for them. At least when they are young you can think they will grow out of it, but some people don't. That's what I'm thinking about now.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Concert Review: Reggie and the Full Effect

There are several memorable images from the concert. I will try and do them all justice, but I want to start with one of two opposites, with the guitars.

Let's start with the general configuration. Front and center was James Dewees, lead vocals, keyboards, and the essence of Reggie and the Full Effect. The collaborations are important, but still, it all centers around him.

Behind him on drums was Billy Johnson. He was pretty constantly obscured by James, as well as his own cymbals. When I got my best look at him he was dressed in such a manner that you had to just assume it was him. (Believe me, we will get to that.) Stage left, blond and on 6 string guitar, was Cory White. Stage right, Zach Phillips, dark-haired and on bass.

I really only noticed the hair color difference because their playing styles were so different. Cory played with energy pulsing through him. It almost felt spastic, but there was too much control. He frequently played facing Billy.

In contract, Zach played facing the audience, but with eyes closed, dreamily. I thought "Zen", but I had thought that about Frank on the album, and I never really thought that about him before. Is this the kind of bass player James attracts, or something in the influence he exerts? The point is, they radiated very different energies, and yet, there was no conflict. It all gelled together and it worked.

To be fair, everyone here has a lot of experience, and a lot of talent, which helps. With all of that you can still have nasty personality clashes, but these aren't the types. It was a great configuration.

Branx was indeed difficult to find. Street numbers did not appear to be what they should, and I wandered in an open door and found James himself. This was a nice beginning to the evening of course, but I could not really enjoy it because at that point I was seeing "Staff Only" signs, and I did not want to get kicked out before the music even started. Based on later interactions the staff were all pretty nice, but rules are rules, and I get nervous.

Sadly, I did not have another close encounter with Dewees, meaning that I did not get to ask my Guido question, and even more tragically that I did not get to redeem my coupon for a free hug or candy. For those going to upcoming shows, if you buy one of the special covers, check inside. There may be valuable offers.

It was a really good show. There were some shortcomings. The band, having traveled through various climates in close quarters, had been passing around a virus. Thinking of that, I am astounded that any musician ever smokes, given the toll it takes on the lungs and throat, when you are already putting other stress on them. I still think everyone performed well.

In addition, the crowd was lacking. The issue wasn't enthusiasm, because everyone there was into it, but there just weren't that many people. Having the Seahawks in the Super Bowl for only their second time (and first win) apparently took a toll. So, I have seen pictures posted of these packed, enthusiastic crowds, and that wasn't us, and I feel bad about that. Personally, I just tried to sing along more. I don't think there were any hard feelings. After all, we had one person in a chicken suit, and Dewees let one girl borrow his Dad's cowboy hat.

I've been going over the discography again, and I know in the previous review I focused a lot on how it is just constantly amazing what he does, but even thinking that with the material that goes back 16 years, he is a lot better now. No Country for Old Musicians still covers a wide range of sounds, but it is the most cohesive album. The quality is really outstanding, and it's not really that there is less fooling around but there is better fooling around. They pull from the same source material, but "Fowlin' Around" is superior to "My Dad - Happy Chickens".

To be fair, I have changed too. I appreciate Last Stop: Crappy Town more now than I did the last time around. Still, I think Dewees just keeps getting better at this. With the Kickstarter he may have had better resources and autonomy this time, but still, there's definite growth.

The set list pulled in songs from all over. We did get some additional background on some of the songs, which was nice. There were two things that were interesting to me. One is that you really got to see the peril of overly complicated song titles, as James was never able to completely say "Revenge Is a Dish Best Served at Park Chan-Wook's House." Also, he introduced "Get Well Soon" as a song about the Loch Ness Monster getting divorced, and "Congratulations Smack + Katy" as a song about peanut butter and jelly. That's what the videos were about, and but I hadn't taken them too literally. Maybe I was wrong.

Both Pentimento and Dads had announced when they had two songs left, and Reggie and the Full Effect did that too, except that their announcement was that there were two Reggie songs left, and then there would be two Fluxuation songs and two Common Denominator songs. Here's how it worked.

After the last Reggie song, the rest of the band exited. James stayed on stage and removed his shirt and pants, stripping down to a tank top and shorts, and getting his hat back. Now he was Fluxuation, and spoke that way and sang that way for those two numbers, "Gloves" and "Love Reality". I was disappointed to not hear "Sundae, Booty Sundae", but having worked on a set list now, I understand the challenges better.

Then Fluxuation exited, and most of the Common Denominator came on, dressed in nun robes with white masks (so, yeah, I assume that was Billy and everyone, but there was no way of knowing). They played a dark metal processional until they were joined by their leader Klaus (Dewees again) in monk's robes and a bloody face. And while they very much in the spirit of a Finnish metal band, and you would expect, they were better. Because without any interruption of the show, before Klaus placed his bloody hand upon the face of one devoted fan, clearly marking him as the anointed one, I believe he both signaled somehow that the guy removed his glasses, and then whispered cleaning tips to him before they exited. This sort of consideration is important.

Common Denominator played "Dwarf Invasion" and "DMV".

This is probably not the most organized review ever. Some of that is because I have already written a lot, and so I am building on that. I'd like to say I was done now, but there are a few videos that will come up during the music video segment. Links to previous posts are down below.

Otherwise, it rambles because there was a lot going on. You get a lot of show from this band. Maybe more than anyone else. I'm trying to think of anyone else that would compare, and there's not. There may be silliness in the background, but there is still ultimately sincerity behind it, and the execution is not a joke. I could use sui generis here, and it would be appropriate, and that phrase is used all the time when it is not accurate at all, but I'm wasting the opportunity because it's too pretentious.

Other Reggie-related posts:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Band Review: Torche

Having a three band lineup for the last show I went to, I was not sure how to handle the reviews, and whom I would put where. Eventually it felt right to put Dads and Pentimento last week. Still giving the headline a Friday spot puts Reggie and the Full Effect on Valentine's Day, and it also felt right to pair them with Torche, because love. I did not realize how difficult it would be to speak coherently about Torche.

I have been going through this sort of evolution about them. It started with Frank Iero tweeting about how good Meanderthal was. I listened to "Meanderthal" and didn't think too much about it, but then "Triumph of Venus" just blew me away, like how are people not constantly talking about how amazing this song is? Sometime later, I realized that "Triumph of Venus" is on the Meanderthal album, so maybe he meant the album not the song. However, on this round of listening, I get why he could say that about "Meanderthal" the song.

At first I felt like what I had was an intellectual appreciation for the band, without really loving them, but it has become more emotional and I am more into them now. Listening to Torche, I get amped up. I could almost say "They shred and it melts my face." That doesn't sound exactly right for me to say, though. I guess if someone else said it I wouldn't argue.

There were things that were interesting about this round of listening. I went through in chronological order. I had tended to think that they really one did one thing, though they did that one thing better than anyone else. No, there are layers I hadn't realized were there before.

The term "sludge metal" suddenly made sense this time around. I still think of Torche more as rock, but I can see how the other time would be applied. There are reviews calling the most recent release, Harmonicraft, lighter, and if that is all you listened to, you would not think it was light, but yeah, as part of the entire oeuvre, it is. They seem to be having more fun in their music videos too.

Speaking of music videos, the video for "Solitary Traveler" has Mold-a-rama figures in it, something which I had not been aware of before our trip to Chicago in October. In addition, I watched an interview with them that took place at the Goose Island Beer Brewery, which we learned about on our Chicago Architecture tour.

These are minor things (and odd, because they are from Miami, so Chicago shouldn't be the key place), but they are helpful. Knowing one thing can help other things fit in. I feel like I don't know enough to write well and really definitively about Torche, but I don't think it's so much that I haven't listened to them enough, but maybe that I don't know enough about other music. Maybe after a few more years of listening and writing, I will get it.

Maybe that will coincide with a chance to see them live. Otherwise, the must hear list is still topped by "Triumph of Venus", but let's add "U.F.O." and "Kicking".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Being the music writer I want to be

The best thing I wrote about music was not on the blog.

It was when "Master of Puppets" by Metallica was the song of the day. Three of my siblings are big Metallica fans, so I would hear them pretty often, but had never really listened. When I did, I was amazed by the construction of the song. The thought that kept coming back to me was that it was like a symphony.

That kept working in my mind: Why a symphony? Because it has different parts, like movements. Is that how they go?

I looked it up on Wikipedia, and yes, I can argue that "Master of Puppets" follows a basic four movement form. It starts with an opening allegro, at about 3:35 it slows down for the adagio, the scherzo (Laughter! Laughter!) starts at around 5:10, and then around 6:50 it returns to the opening allegro.

I put that in the comments when I posted the song of the day on Facebook, and it did not get any likes or replies. So, if everyone reading would please take a moment to admire Metallica, and me, I would appreciate that.

By telling this story, I have now captured it on the blog, which makes it easy to find. Also, that is kind of really me. I get fixated on something, and so I have to research it and I have to write about it. That's my whole MO, and if it sounds a little OCD, yeah, I've noticed that too.

This is something I care about, and feel like I have to do, so it is worth going over some of the concerns I raised over the past two weeks, and figuring out where to go with them.

For the physical stamina part, if I recall correctly, the show that I was in the best shape for was Jimmy Eat World, and at the time I was doing a combination of walking and an aerobics workout that incorporated some resistance training. I believe the increased endurance from the walking along with the core strengthening from the other workout was what made the difference, so obviously that is the way to go.

I didn't mention organization specifically, but I sort of hinted at it when I was writing about how many bands there are. Actually, I owe thanks to Pete Wentz on this one. One night he tweeted something about looking for unsigned bands, and I had this moment of panic because who is signed and who isn't?

It was then pretty easy to remember Revenir. I knew they were not signed because of something I had seen recently, and while there are some bands who should really avoid signing until they know themselves better, or have more experience, I don't worry about that with Revenir. They have a good sense of identity, they are mature, and Matt at least has worked with a small label and a big label, so I trust them to be able to make good decisions. 

I have absolutely no reason to think that Pete saw my post, but you never know what will come up, and it's good to be ready, so I am working on a spreadsheet. I am still figuring out some things, like what information is helpful. It currently has three tabs: Reviewed, On Deck, and one for suggestions. Filling out the Reviewed tab is the only reason I know that Third Eye Blind was 100, and On Deck has been really helpful for keeping track of whose turn it is.

I'd had mixed feelings about Suggestions. These may be more established bands. If nothing else, Joe Trohman or Alex Levine or Mike Kennerty knows about them. So maybe they don't need the boost as much as some band hopefully following new people on Twitter. However, in today's music industry I'm not even sure what "established" means. A lot of bands could use a boost. So, I will pull from there, and I hope at some point to also be adding more local bands.

Because of the cost and transportation concerns, that will not be right now. I think for this year I am going to try not to duplicate any shows. There are a couple of little twinges, that may get worse when the show dates get closer, but I think it is manageable.

This is where everything gets complex. If I do actually need more money, and if I have to give up on selling a screenplay, which has not happened yet, but could happen, do I change my life and try and find something that pays more? Would I even be able to in this economy? And money is a factor in the transportation issues, but those issues are also issues with flying solo.

Thinking about trying to drive again still makes me feel sick. There is unresolved stuff there. Finding it hard to be social and various related feelings has related roots. It can pose issues for the music writing, but is mainly about everything else.

Here is how I think things will go down. Next week will probably use some stories about the music writing as launching points, but it will not be about the music writing. I expect that will be followed by a week that is semi-political and then a week of comics review.

Then I will have a few weeks writing about music videos, and music, and that will be fun, and a good breather, and a chance to be silly at times, but with some serious notes. That will probably be followed by another week of comic reviews, and maybe some material on books and movies.

At that point, I will need to be done with this reading list, and it will really be time to get down into everything that caring about kids who have depression and eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and self-harming addictions inspires in someone who cut off a connection with her body and any hope of ever being loved many years ago. Fortunately, that writing will only be three days a week.

2014 will be a hard-won year, and I don't really know what victory will look like, but we're going to find out. And it all always connects.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Supporting bands

I wasted an opportunity a while back, with the Grammy Gig of a Lifetime contest.

Fall Out Boy were judges, which is how I knew about it, and I started thinking about bands to nominate. The problem was that the bands could only have four members. Grammys, what do you have against rock?

The standard rock band configuration is five people: singer, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, and drums. Yes, you can get away with four people if your singer also plays an instrument (which Fall Out Boy does), but then what if they want keyboards? Despite being four-member bands, All American Rejects and My Chemical Romance tend to have six people on stage, and it works.

I ended up nominating Prima Donna, because while they do have five people, they are based in Los Angeles, so transportation costs would not be an issue. I don't think the Grammys saw it that way. I probably should have looked harder for a four-person band. As it was, I was not aware of TEAM (whose singer does play an instrument) during the nomination period, but someone else did, and I was happy to give them my votes.

The winner ended up being Barrett Baber, a country singer from Arkansas. I didn't watch, and everything I remember people even talking about was not really musical. Well, what can you expect from a show that limits band size to four people?

There were still some interesting things. One reason I made the 5-member band I nominated Prima Donna, instead of Revenir (besides logistics) was that Prima Donna had live performance footage on line, and Revenir did not at that time, despite having other videos. Different opportunities may require having different things available, and so presenting your band in different ways, over different formats, is something to think about. And I think about these things all the time, because I care.

A band follows me (or I have always liked them, or they opened for someone I have always liked, or something), and I follow them and eventually a review happens. Those have been pretty good experiences. There is a lot of talent out there, and a lot of heart, and I do have a soft spot for musicians. I get attached and want good things for them.

I also have to move on, because there are more bands to review, and more music history to learn, and there is only so much time available. That's why I started doing the songs of the day. It's a chance to go back and remember, and maybe someone who didn't read the review will click on the song.

I have had hopes at times that my music reviews would be a way for people to discover new bands, and that hasn't really panned out. I think the actual role I fill is that the band can show the review to their parents and say "Look! Someone wrote about us." I can live with that. If I didn't believe in doing things for parents, I wouldn't have a mortgage.

There is generally this feeling of wanting to do more. So sometimes there are contests where you can vote, and they do get a slot in a Battle of the Bands, or they get ranked in AltPress. I did vote for these metal awards, and it was amazing to see that I recognized names in all of the main categories. A year ago, that would not have been the case. Sometimes you can support crowd-sourcing projects. Also, I take requests for music suggestions very seriously.

Another pointless story may help here. I was out for karaoke in December, and I was able to find some songs, but two I couldn't were "Mercy Me" by Alkaline Trio and "Saturday Night" by the Misfits. The KJ said they were just too obscure, and this is a KJ from a pair that has so many songs available they don't even use books.

"Saturday Night" may be legitimately obscure (and whenever I do get a chance to sing it, I will sound totally demented; I accept this); "Mercy Me" shouldn't be. It had a release and a video. It charted a little. It was featured in a video game.

The problem is that with the current musical landscape, it's hard to be noticed at all. They do get songs from Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga, but I don't want to sing that. Yes, there are many songs from the '80s and '90s that I can work with, but it shouldn't stop there, and it largely does. Country music does get updated, but they have their own separate channel.

There are things that can be kind of nice about this. Some of those connections, where a band can recognize a fan from Twitter, would be less likely with more mainstream success. There are things I like about shows in smaller venues. Financially, though, there can be issues, and some of the music is beautiful and helpful; it should reach more people.

I have written about this before, and I don't really know the answers. Certainly not downloading music illegally is important, but getting that bigger audience, and reaching more people, that's hard. And, it's not my job, really - bands need to be on top of that for their own sake - but I want to help.