Friday, November 29, 2019

Concert Review: Cosmonox

Cosmonox ended the show Saturday night, and it just got weirder.

Both members of Cosmonox appeared to play different things, but they were largely things I had never seen before. Instruments include a 4-track cassette recorder, keytar (okay, I did recognize the keytar), homemade synthesizers, and what appears to be a Califone Cardmaster, where paper was pushed through and pulled back, giving kind of a record scratch effect.

The energy reminded me of The Presidents of the United States of America, who also do some custom instruments, but only by removing unnecessary strings from their guitars. With Cosmonox, it is as if the Presidents were AV geeks, and also a Portlandia sketch.

In addition, they would have to be very into Greek mythology; almost every song was about King Amphitryon, Theban general and stepfather of Hercules.

I guess it makes sense that they played at Kelly's Olympian.

If Dr. Something was blending melody and harmony, and The Vardaman Ensemble was exploring the art of noise, Cosmonox was all about the rhythm.

I can't necessarily remember how the music went; just the thump. Maybe not everyone got out on the floor and danced, but I doubt anyone was impervious to the beat and able to keep still.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Concert Review: The Vardaman Ensemble

The Vardaman Ensemble was the second band on the bill Saturday night at Kelly's Olympian.

The theme of multi-instrumentalism continued as one member alternated between French horn and theremin, and the keyboard player also played a small (maybe piccolo?) trumpet. There was also a guitar and drums.

(My pictures are terrible, but I saw some video from another source and everyone came out kind of green, so I don't think it was just me.)

The musical theme seemed to be more cacophony than anything else. It was interesting in how it could still effectively evoke different emotions; there was a subtle menace in the opening number.

However, for me the lack of melody meant that it was gone after I left. No passages came back to me. It was interesting to see, but I did not connect to it.

I must say, the show did not have a large audience, but for those who believe deeply in keeping Portland weird, they should have been here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Concert Review: Dr. Something

I previously reviewed Dr. Something in May 2015 (  It took me a while to get to see her live.

Obviously one key difference was a chance to see the video background: a loop of strange images in themed segments. (For example, Sacajawea shooting a laser at an evil pine cone, I think.)

The more interesting loop was the vocal looping that Dr. Something did, demonstrating a well-deserved vocal confidence. The artist has a beautiful voice and a good aesthetic sense to deploy in using it.

I think live viewing also gave me a better appreciation for her multi-instrumentality. Singing while playing is one thing; being able to switch to another instrument in between and keep it all going takes it up a notch.

And if Alison playing her clarinet above her keyboard while a colorful puppet looks concerned over a unicorn background seems like the best way to encapsulate the entire thing... yeah, that's probably about right.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Dealing with death

I thought I would have a lot to say about death. Now I am not sure that I do, but I wanted to get this one quote out of the way.

"It appears that people who have gone through a life of suffering, hard work, and labor, who have raised their children and been gratified in their work, have shown greater ease in accepting death with peace and dignity compared to those who have been ambitiously controlling their environment, accumulating material goods, and a great number of social relationships but few meaningful interpersonal relationships which would have been available at the end of life."

This is from On Death and Dying by Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross.

It makes more sense if you have read the book. For example, the part about children does not mean so much that death is hard to accept if you are childless, but if you have children and have not been able to finish raising them, then letting go is harder.

The five stages are pretty well known (if not deeply understood), but the most striking example of how the stages are not linear had to do with bargaining and children. Someone might bargain just to see the children grow and graduate, then to see them married, then to see them have children. It can be hard saying goodbye to spouses and siblings and friends, but the responsibility felt to children is different, and it's a factor.

The whole quote is a bit of a run-on sentence anyway, but I have an affinity for those. It may be best to break it down.

Greater ease in accepting death with peace and dignity:
  • Life has included suffering, hard work, and labor
  • Children have been raised
  • Have been gratified in their work
Greater difficulty/less peace and dignity in accepting death:
  • Ambitiously controlling their environment
  • Accumulating material goods (probably also ambitiously)
  • A great number of social relationships but few meaningful interpersonal relations
I know some of them stick out as wrong at first. Why does life have to include suffering? But if your first trial is facing your own mortality, that's a really dramatic toss into the deep end. Also, some of my suffering has allowed me to see a certain relief in death. I'm not saying that I'm sincerely longing for it now, but I can definitely spot the upside.

I think it is similar for work. A life of too much ease and idleness doesn't prepare you to handle much. It's not just accomplishing things, and having to do so; there is the learning and getting things wrong and then getting better at them. There's a lot that goes into that.

Work can be very gratifying, but it isn't automatically. I'm glad that was mentioned. I think it's important that everyone has the opportunity for that.

Of course, whenever opportunities for meaning and satisfaction are taken away from some people, it's usually in the service of someone else trying to accumulate wealth. As crucial as it is that material goods will not be satisfying on your death bed, it's important to also know that it isn't satisfying when you are still in the midst of life either. There have been a few articles recently about poor millionaires and why they can't relax or stop accumulating; it's twisted. Maybe the attempt to control things is a different stab at gratification, but that doesn't work either. They probably should try something else.

And relationships. It's not just that we need each other, though we do. We need to connect to each other in meaningful ways.

This is important, because we all die. I hate to dash any hopes you have pinned on the singularity, but we all die. It is worth being able to deal with it.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Concert Review: The Slants - Farewell Show

I have been wanting to see The Slants live since I first reviewed them in 2017. I recently saw that they were coming to Doug Fir Lounge with the words "Final Show" and realized I was almost out of time.

After thirteen years and a Supreme Court battle, the band is retiring from touring. It's not really the end, because there is now a non-profit foundation and a musical. Actually, "final" show is a bit of a misnomer, because there are still a few dates listed for acoustic sets and book tour dates. This was the last date with the full band, though, and "full" was an understatement.

Former members were brought back, and it was a nice touch. For a while current singer Ken Shima and former singer Aron Moxley took turns taking the stage, but then everyone was on stage, and everyone was mounting speakers. It was pretty cool.

Yes, there was rock, but also there was an excerpt from the new musical, and some stories and sharing about what was next. That, along with the reunion of former members, made it more than just a performance. There was heart and thoughtfulness that made it more.

It was an appropriate sendoff for a band that has always been about more.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Concert Review: Camp Crush

Camp Crush was second on the bill. They also have a nostalgic focus.

With a love for the 80s, and married couple Jen Deale and Chris Spicer at the helm, it would be easy to think of that special summer (maybe 1985) and that cute boy across the lake and those good times you had (as long as a crazed killer never hit your summer camp, which was true for most of us).

However, the shiny gold outfits they wore Monday night made another meaning of camp completely possible.

With some fun keyboard embellishments, the New Wave influence is easy to spot. The mood is not really 80s, at least not when listening to recordings. It is more remembering the 80s (hence the nostalgia). However, in performance there is an added exuberance that was really enjoyable.

To catch that energy, their next performance will bet on November 23rd at the Old Church. Details can be found at the band's links below.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Concert Review: Shy Honey

Shy Honey opened the Slants' farewell show Monday night at the Doug Fir Lounge. It was a good show.

As a relatively new band, they currently only have three recordings that can be easily found, but their set list Monday featured nine songs, including a solo cover by singer Anna Gilbert of Oasis' "Champagne Supernova".

That may indicate the tendency toward nostalgia that Born Music Online noted:

"She has this kind of music that 'you'd dance around your bedroom and sing into a hairbrush.' Bringing nostalgic memories and happy times back into the limelight."

(as quoted on the Shy Honey web site)

Indeed, Gilbert's intro included a story that either indicated that "Champagne Supernova" was the only song she liked as a teenager or that is was really overplayed (could be both). The band nonetheless sounded new and fresh.

Without a lot of information available, existing material tends to focus on Gilbert. The rest of the ensemble is musically strong. They featured drumming that was clean but accentuated with fun surprises, flexible rhythm and bass guitar capacity, lovely keyboards, and the most interesting lead guitar set-up that I have ever seen. With a more synth pop bent, not every song took advantage of that ability, but when the opportunity to shine was there it excelled.

Shy Honey plays tonight at the Aladdin, which makes for a busy week. I hope they have a blast.

There should be good things ahead.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Green on the vine

I took this a few days ago as frost was coming.

Tomatoes are kind of the easiest thing to grow, so often the only thing I am growing. This is a remarkably hardy heirloom tomato called Robin that needed three frosts to really take it out; generally the first night that dips below freezing does it.

The thing about tomatoes is that right up until that first frost, they keep putting forth new blossoms and fruits and making them bigger. There are plants that recognize when the solstice has passed and the days are getting shorter - even thought it's only by a little bit at first - and they start going to seed right away. As the human observer, I know there's not enough time and sun left for them to ripen, but tomatoes keep going all in.

I'm sure this is why there are so many recipes for green tomatoes - gardeners adapt - but it still makes me kind of sad.

I achieved my October goals. As November was approaching, I started thinking about trying to do NANOWRIMO. (The very name irritates me, so I wasn't really calling it that in my head.)

That is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. By the time I learned there was such a thing I had already written at least one novel. Also, the writing samples posted I saw posted tended to be pretty terrible. That made me more against it.

Then I thought about how creative expression is good for people, and writing for a month is a positive experience for many. Plus the roughness of first writing, just underscores the importance of rewriting. Because of that I have tried to not look down on it; it just wasn't something I needed previously.

Right now my blogging is a little sporadic. My journal writing is pretty regular, though I often realize it is not getting at everything that it needs to get at. I have not written anything creative, though, for a while.

I was thinking that maybe it would be a good way to get back in, write a novel or a screenplay in November. I totally could. I'd had two novels started back when my hard drive crashed. That's been over a year. Rewriting three chapters is not that bad, once you get over the initial discouragement. I could pick either novel back up, but I haven't.

I had to accept, though, that this is not the right time. There's not enough time and not enough sun.

I have thought sometimes - when there are so many things I would like to write - that I don't know that they can all possibly be done. New ideas come frequently, so even if every idea I have a desire to write now does get written, chances are that there are still some that wouldn't. I'm not the first creative person to worry about that.

But then, when I get really reflective, I also think it would be horrible to have everything done and nothing to look forward to. I spend so much time trying to get caught up. On one level I know it's a delusion, but perhaps on a different level that's a good thing.

Besides, not all of the ideas are that great. My idea for dinosaurs in the modern world was not nearly as clever as Jurassic Park (though I bet it was better than Carnosaur). And sometimes you don't even need to finish writing. Charles Dickens never finished The Mystery of Edwin Drood and it still became a musical.

I believe I will get to write things again. It's okay that it's not now, despite occasional pangs. It's just mortality, and it has different seasons.

It must be time to start writing about death.

Well, after some concert reviews.