Monday, December 31, 2007

Catfish at the Clubs: Best Shows of 2007

I guess it'd be more accurate to say "at the clubs and the parks and the amphitheaters and whatnot." I had some of the best musical moments of my life watching live music during the past year. I made my way to about 35 shows this year, from a dozen or more great local Tucson bands to some of America's greatest living legends.
It's next to impossible to rank this type of stuff, so here's 12 of the best shows, in chronological order.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Plush, Jan. 9
This show demonstrates as good as any one of the greatest treasures of seeing live music in Tucson: the opportunity to watch very great performers in very small venues. Still, I was surprised Malkmus didn’t book a larger venue. Since he played nearly all new songs, I didn’t know a single one the whole night, but it didn’t matter. He’s a strange genius on the guitar and Janet Weiss on drums is an incredible addition.
Download: Stephen Malkmus - Merry Go Round (live at Plush)

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 – Club Congress, April 14
One of Britain’s weirdest exports, Hitchcock’s wordplay is like no other songwriter. And he’s the best banterer I’ve ever seen. I’d caught him twice before solo acoustic, but with the full band (including Peter Buck) of his latest recording partners, it’s even better.

Guthrie Family Legacy Tour – Centennial Hall, April 29
Arlo has long been a favorite of mine, and this was the first time I got to see him perform. He’s a rich storyteller and a great songwriter in his own right, plus it never hurts to be able to draw on a song pool like his dad Woody left us. I left the show amazed in equal measure at his humor and his humanity. Download: Arlo Guthrie - In Times Like These (live Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival 2006-08-12).

Alejandro Escovedo & The Drive-by Truckers – Rialto Theatre, May 5
It might seem like a strange double bill, but they definitely went well together. I’d seen Alejandro once before, stuffed into Congress, but it was great to see him fill that room with sound. And the Truckers are one of the best live bands out there today, with enough songs to keep going and going and going (plus they were kind enough to preview some new ones).

Bob Dylan – AVA Amphitheatre, July 24
Dylan returned to the desert just over a year since his last Arizona shows and this performance was much better than the more sedate one at the TCC Arena. The Modern Times songs sounded great live and as usual, Dylan threw a couple curveballs into the set. The harsh and jagged “Masters of War” remains as stinging an indictment as it was more than four decades ago. Download: Bob Dylan – Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) (live Tucson 2007-07-24)

Chango Malo cd release show – Club Congress, Aug. 17

Leave it to Chango Malo to take over Congress inside and out, invite eight other bands and turn their CD release show into the party of the year. And in all that mess of bands and friends and beers, they rose above it all with a show as tight as it was drenched in energy. The album rips too.
All in all, the night was a strong statement about the quality of bands regularly playing downtown Tucson. The scene is excellent, varied, energetic and above all, musically inspiring.

Hotel Congress Festival – Aug. 30 to Sept. 2

A handful of local bands impressed on Friday, and the Friends of Dean Martinez mesmerized before the Weird Lovemakers brought the whole damn thing crashing down Sunday night, but the standout set of this festival (far and away) was Okkervil River’s Saturday set. I was front and center with a bunch of friends for the rambunctious and passionate performance that had as many sing-alongs to new stuff as it did old. I’d had a copy of The Stage Names for a few weeks by that time seeing most of it live was an absolute thrill.

Download: Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (live in San Francisco)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival – San Francisco, Oct. 5 to 8
I already wrote about this one extensively, so I’ll just say that Jeff Tweedy performing “Remember the Mountain Bed” was just one of those moments when life doesn’t get any better. Check it out: Part 1, Part 2.

And from the festival:
Jeff Tweedy - Remember the Mountain Bed
Emmylou Harris - Sin City
Gillian Welch - Pocahontas

The Hold Steady (with Art Brut) - TLA, Philadelphia, Oct. 23
I was definitely lucky when my East Coast travels coincided with this show. I've listened to the Hold Steady as much as any other band during the last two years and Boys And Girls In America has been as much of a go-to album as I've ever had. (Major props also go to the Hold Steady’s performance at Plush on June 4. I was a hell of a lot closer to the band there, but I gotta go with the Philly performance for a larger and rowdier crowd and top-notch openers.)
Check out NPR's All Songs Considered podcast to download performances from both bands (a couple weeks after the Philly show).

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (with The Swim) – Club Congress, Nov. 1

It was a treat to watch some friends sharing the bill with one of their heroes.
Ted Leo absolutely rocks, but he deserves respect for much more than his music. He's unabashedly political and brings intellect to the pursuit than most activists.
Check his Web site for a "news" section that's more or less a blog
And find a live Ted Leo show here.

Bookmans Party in the Park (Calexico) – Nov. 3

"... let Tucson's favorite sons and their best mariachi friends let loose with what must be about the best of the dozen or so shows of theirs you've taken in. Remember how you first saw Calexico with maybe a couple hundred people stuffed into an art gallery by the railroad tracks, must've been 1999 or 2000. Remember how they seemed to have a pedal for the passing train, and how they set the room on fire. Remember how on three or four albums since those same musicians captured a hell of a lot more attention and without a doubt became one of the world's greatest bands. Sit in anticipation for a particular song, a Bob Dylan cover you'd been soaking in for months, with several different bootleg recordings, before finally hearing them back Willie Nelson on "Senor." Celebrate as the trumpets bellow loud and mysterious. Shimmy and sway as the show stretches many songs and songs and songs afterwards. Depart with a poster and autographs..."

Neko Case – Rialto Theatre, Nov. 15
I talked a friend into flying in from San Francisco for the show - one of only two solo dates this fall for Neko. Her guest performances at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival were nice little teasers for this show. The tunes from her latest album just soar live and there's plenty of quirky banter.
NPR broadcast Neko's show in LA the next night and has it available for download here.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Celebrity Death Pool 2008!

Ladies and gentlemen, it brings me great pleasure to announce that the Celebrity Death Pool is being hosted here for the first time in 2008.

We've got a three-time winner on our hands in Mr. Tim Finnagain, who is really starting to creep me out. He won the 2007 contest by correctly predicting the demise of Lady Bird Johnson and Brooke Astor. That follows his 2006 win for Shelley Winters, John Kenneth Galbraith and his 2005 win for the Pope and Arthur Miller (what do you 'spose those two are talking about in the afterlife?). And Finnagain was only one year off on Boris Yeltsin.

So let's see if anyone can dethrone our resident psychic.

New to the contest this year is a prize for our winner: One free year of Immortality, from the diety of your choice.

Put your picks in the comments - we're looking for about 10 guesses per person, but don't worry about going a few over if you're really feeling a psychic connection with the Grim Reaper.

Get your picks in by Jan. 7 and good luck!

UPDATE: Alright, because of some slackers out there, we're gonna extend the deadline on this here contest until JANUARY 13.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I'm So There

I'm off in a few to go see I'm Not There with some fellow Dylan nuts. I've read a ton about the film and how Todd Haynes approached the project (some of the more interesting articles are here and here) and I still don't really know what to expect.
There's no way I could possibly approach this as just a movie; I'm more of the mind to make it a couple hours of intense study and attempts to pick out all the subtle details pointing to Dylan's career.
I've been absorbed in the soundtrack since it came out. Calexico and Stephen Malkmus definitely come out as winners, but whoever played gatekeeper on the project gets the real credit. There's hardly a bum artists in the lot (I'm not a fan of Jack Johnson, though he's passable here), but the best part of the whole thing is the fact that it didn't just dredge up the hits again. The two biggest songs - All Along the Watchtower by Eddie Vedder, et. al and Knockin' On Heaven's Door by Antony - are the album's weakest moments to me.
Highlights start with Calexico and Willie teaming for "Señor" and include Yo La Tengo's "I Wanna Be Your Lover," Marcus Carl Franklin's "When The Ship Comes In," The Hold Steady's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" and of course, Dylan's own "She's Not There," among many others.
Wolfgang's Vault hosted an I'm Not There concert from New York for a short time and I hope that it sees the light of commercial release, because The Roots' take on Masters of War may just be the most stunning Dylan cover I've ever heard.
So here's hoping it's a great film - and stay tuned for commentary.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Forty-three miles toward Ruidoso

Maybe I picked the guy up just because it's Christmas. It's a good enough reason, I suppose. Plus there are karmic factors at work, good deeds to build up and strengthen the soul and stuff. Besides, this world ain't always a nice place, nor is it true that our own decisions are the only things that could leave us stranded one day.

But I think the thing that most pushed me to act was looking at the dude in the pale gas station light and getting pissed off at the sudden and clear realization that it was easier to imagine myself as callous enough to just say no and walk away than it was to even begin wrapping my head around the notion of being as down-and-out as he was.

It was strange enough that I was there to begin with. I almost always take the back way from Phoenix to Tucson, which would've put me 20 miles away when I needed fuel, but figuring traffic would be light on the interstate I opted for the quicker route.

So there I was - at a Circle K on Ray Road, just east of I-10 - when a guy asked me if I was headed to downtown Phoenix. Nope, I said, Tucson. I went in for a coffee and when I got back outside, he said he was really trying to get toward El Paso. He'd already tried hitching on the interstate, but a cop picked him up and dropped him back there.

Weighing how helpless he looked against stranger-danger type notions that this was about to be the worst mistake I'd ever made, I kinda nodded and agreed to run him up to the nearest truck stop headed east.

He picked up a couple bags from behind the dumpster and thanked me as I bungee-corded the trunk shut.

His story - or at least the timeline - was a little shaky, but he'd been living on the streets of Phoenix since the end of November, when his car was stolen, and he was trying to get back to Ruidoso to see his eight kids, including an 11-month-old daughter.

The guy had a beard and scruffy longish hair under a ball cap, and even though from his stories and his general appearance he'd clearly fallen to hard times before this homeless stint in Phoenix, he didn't look the 38 he said he was.

He'd left New Mexico for Phoenix with a couple chicks to make a pot run, and he didn't tell anybody because he didn't want them to get the wrong idea about him and the chicks. One of them ended up taking off in his van and he'd been stuck since.

Collecting cans was supposed to earn him enough to get a bus back, but those had been stolen. The only clothes he had were from a dumpster except the coat, which a woman gave him, saying it was a gift of Jesus' love, or some such charitable words that had enough weight that they kept echoing in his mind when he thought to pawn the coat for a hit of heroin.

He quit using five years ago, but he'd been shot in the leg in Jacksonville, Florida during a pot deal gone wrong, and the painkillers led him right back to junk. By Christmas he was three days sober and he said he was even over being sick; he'd eaten a hot dog and a cheeseburger today, the most food he'd had since getting trapped in Phoenix.

I nodded some, and offered the occasional huh, yep or no shit, but just let him ramble. Somebody to talk to must've been at least as big of a gift as a ride out of Phoenix.

I let him off at the Love's in Arizona City. For a bit I considered taking the dude all the way to Tucson, but it seemed the most practical thing was to get him near some truckers rather than simply dump him off in another city where he could get harassed by cops at every turn.
I didn't catch his name, and even though I didn't sense any hint of a threat at any time, I never got comfortable.

I hope he gets home. I hope he actually wants to be home. He said a few years ago, before he got into dealing, some friends had asked him for advice on raising kids. Those were the proudest moments of his life, when he was an example of a good dad, not like the old man he had, who took to beating his kids regularly enough that it seemed he couldn't think of anything else to do.

I hope he doesn't get sucked back into dealing. He'd wanted to be a real G. It was easy enough at first, but you get a little successful and you get enemies. And he'd only gotten beat down because that's the way it turned out, not because he wasn't willing to beat somebody else down.

I hope being proud of his kids' skateboarding and knowing his wife wants to help him means something when he's no longer strung out and staring at a long and seemingly impossible road home.

I've never picked up a hitchhiker before, and I hope the 43 miles actually helped.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Burma Shake & Shimmy

OK everybody, it's time to announce the latest mix:

Burma Shake & Shimmy

Gillian Welch - I Want To Sing That Rock 'n' Roll
Billy Emerson - Every Woman I Know (Crazy 'Bout An Automobile)
Otis Redding - That's How Strong My Love Is
Van Morrison - You're My Woman
Bob Dylan - Workingman's Blues #2
Bruce Springsteen - The Promise
Feist - Intuition
Arcade Fire - (Antichrist Television Blues)
The Seychelles - 13 hundred songs, 3 and a half days
Wilco - Impossible Germany
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists - Me and Mia
The Deludes - Sedation Nation
The Swim - King Cortez
Dream Syndicate - Tell Me When It's Over
Okkervil River - Unless It's Kicks
Hold Steady - Can I Please Crawl Out Your Window
M. Ward & Zooey Deschanel - When I Get to the Border
Neko Case - Set Out Running
Arizona Amp and Alternator - Velvet and Pearl
Kristin Hersh - Your Ghost

Download the mix as a zip file. (Note: files are mixed mp3 and AAC - deal with it - and pay attention to the info file.)

This isn't a holiday mix, or a year-in-review type thing. I've basically done one mix in the summer and one mix in the winter for the past decade. The last few winter mixes have gotten a bit intertwined with year-end type thinking, so I've actively tried to limit the 2007 songs here. New-to-me stuff pops up out of the distant and near past all the time anyway, plus there are bootlegs to find, and I regularly discover new infatuations with albums I've known well for years, so there's never a shortage of tunes to consider. I'll probably throw together a best of 2007 later, but this is the official half-year mix. (Glad we got that cleared up... )
Burma Shake & Shimmy follows The Strangest Oscillations. (Follow the link for info on other previous mixes.)


Less than two hours spent between Best Buy and Bookmans and I can confidently state that Christmas shopping is done! I certainly won't be handing out the most creative bundle of gifts this world has ever seen, but they're all right in line with what's been requested.
That said, I'm moving right along with winter - knockin' on the solstice, ready for a trip up North, set to embrace many friends after too many months and damn near prepared to let this year roll over zeros, to put 2007 into the books and get goin' with its successor.
On that note, keep your eyes peeled to Catfish Vegas Presents... in the coming days and weeks for a few treats.
First up will be the latest of the biannual mixes, with tunes stretching from 1955 to this fall, spread across rock, soul, folk, country and the usual unclassifiable desert concoctions, from favorites both new and old.
Shortly thereafter I'll be unveiling the year in review, complete with top music and film choices. As a special treat, I'm recruiting Stu Leblanc for a year in haiku, as well as his top song picks of 2007.
And this year, the Celebrity Death Poll will make its debut on Catfish Vegas Presents...
Then Arlo Guthrie Day is right around the corner and I know you'll want to hear what's in store.
Lastly, have a great holiday everyone and remember that rock 'n' roll, humor, good friends and family and a few beers every now and again are what it's all about.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dan "Dewey Cox" Bern

As far as I'm concerned, Walk Hard already comes with impressive credentials as a film, springing forth from the realm of Jud Apatow.
But then today I got news that Dan Bern had a hand in writing most of the film's songs, and something tells me the music will be just as good as the rest of the humor.
Bern is a tremendous songwriter, made up of a little Dylan and an overflowing bucket of dry wit. He's an unapologetic lefist and sees power in songs just as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger did. He's a bit nasally, but he can play a mean harp, and if anyone alive could write a talking blues song for the Internet age, it's Dan Bern.
The first I ever heard of Bern was the song "Tiger Woods," and the memory is a bit shaky, but it was somehow tied up in Comedy Corner, a sketch group I knew and loved dearly. And the song got tremendous airplay (not quite the right word since it wasn't on the radio, but 'play' by itself just doesn't work here) at parties I and others threw all throughout college. You can't go wrong when a tune starts with the lyrics "I got big balls..."
It was later I started approaching the rest of his work, after hearing "Jerusalem" at a friend's house, but it was the New American Language record that really made me see just how skilled a songwriter he really is. He hadn't abandoned humor by any stretch, only now Bern used it to dress up heartache and disillusionment and the powerless that stems from the fact that world sometimes just ain't gonna be the way we'd like it, no matter how hard we try.
Here's a verse from "Black Tornado"
And everyplace I go is one less place I could call home
And every girl I kiss, well I just cross her off my list
I don't go far
I just go crazy
I buried all of my old clothes out in some field in West Des Moines
And if you judge me tonight
Judge me by the songs I write
That's who I am to you
From what I understand, Bern lives out in New Mexico now, but that doesn't bring him out to Arizona on tour with any frequency. I did get the chance to see him play once, just over three years ago, in Flagstaff. It was late October, leading up to an election day that would ultimate be a devastating one. He was passionate about change, about using his music to bring people together and to make some change in the world. And even if you don't succeed, that trying just may just add up to being the moments worth living for. So, it was a great show, and as I said at the time: "Anyone who calls his band the International Jewish Banking Conspiracy has a lot up his sleeve."

And the fact that this guy has his hands in writing songs for a biopic spoof must mean that the movie has a lot more going for it than just what's on the surface.

Check out some live tunes:
Dan Bern - Tiger Woods
Dan Bern - Jerusalem
Dan Bern - New American Language
Dan Bern - President
Dan Bern - Black Tornado
Find the whole set over at

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Merry Christmas, from Tom Waits

I saw this over at Aquarium Drunkard. Stop by, and pick up the Neko Case cover as well...


I invented a new food today: the bratadilla. Take a bratwurst, but instead of placing it inside a bun, wrap it up in a quesadilla.
It's the type of fantastic that can only exist in the presence of a deep and lazy gluttony.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I like the cold. Not the real cold, but the cold here. I like the lower 40s at night, and sitting in the bright sun to take advantage of the day. I reckon I'll head on downtown for some coffee and some sun here in a bit, and make some more progress on Sometimes A Great Notion. About 200 pages in I definitely love the book, but it's a slow read, with constantly shifting points of view.
Then it's on to a holiday party, the first bit of recognition I'm ready to give to the season. That, and tonight the stupid-ass hay rides and hot chocolate stands hit the overly festive rich neighborhood just down the road. I'm not a total bah humbug type, but I can't stand the extra traffic and yank-mammas trying to find parking on the side of the road that stretches the last minute of my drive home from work out to about 10 minutes. Bah.
And then it's on to see The Theory. They're a local band I caught a few months ago doing a damn good acoustic set. I dig their set up - sexy chick singer/guitarist and stoic dudes on bass and drums. The bass player I know as Honeysocks, and the singer Harriet Brown performs solo as well.
The Theory - Meet Me On Saturday
Honeysocks - Dingos Ate My Band

The Unwelcome Guest

I can't let Mr. Chair have all the fun.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Say it ain't so...

And to the surprise of nobody except Roger Clemens' lawyer, the baseball world learned today that at least dozens of players over the past decade have been juiced to the gills.
Since there's absolutely no telling how many home runs, strike outs or early returns from injuries are due to the magic of chemistry, let's just figure that the pitchers and the hitters were more or less even, cheaters or not.
And rather than dwell on what's being called baseball's worst scandal since the Black Sox, or at least its darkest days since the 1994 strike, let's all just celebrate the game, music style.
But first, here's a photograph I have framed in my living room, of Jackie Robinson in the 1952 All-Star Game. Now that's baseball.

First up is a jumpin' swing tribute to Jackie:

Buddy Johnson - Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball

I tracked that one down from Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour, which has a wonderful episode devoted to baseball. And the host even gets into it himself:

Bob Dylan - Take Me Out to the Ballgame

And let's not forget another Minnesota native singing during the Seventh Inning Stretch:

The Hold Steady - Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Baseball ("the one constant through all the years...") doesn't do too bad in the movies either. The Natural and Major League are definitely two of the best, but my favorite has got to be Field of Dreams. It's baseball as magic, as a mythic America, a metaphor for fathers and sons and all that's good about life:

James Earl Jones baseball speech

And I was hoping to leave everybody with Vin Scully's call of the Kirk Gibson home run that won game one of the 1988 World Series, but I had no luck finding it online in audio or video, so instead here's Jack Buck's radio call:

Kirk Gibson - 1988 World Series

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Golden Opportunities

My inbox today contained news of a great idea from a great band: Okkervil River is releasing a free covers album via their web site.

The so-called Christmas mixtape, Golden Opportunities, was recorded in bits and pieces while the band was on tour over the last couple years. And aside from a somber taken on their own "Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas," it's all covers, taken from the likes of Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman and Serge Gainsbourg.
What's more interesting, as the first couple listens are starting to indicate and as Will Sheff made clear to Pitchfork, is that the songs chosen are thematically related to the band's latest album.
I see some instances (Joni Mitchell's "The Blonde in the Bleachers") in which the covered songs are direct inspirations for The Stage Names.
Two very interesting parallels are at work here: First, Sheff takes creative and imaginative inspiration from favorite songs in a similar (but subtler) way as he did on Black Sheep Boy. And second, Golden Opportunities functions as a companion to The Stage Names in much the same way that Black Sheep Boy Appendix both thematically extended its predecessor and took the paths less chosen.
Download the nine-song album (along with liner notes and artwork) here.
That Sheff is a careful lyricist is not surprising, but he's also quick on his feet and has a sly wit he doesn't often show. Dig this:
I was talking with drummer Travis Nelson when the band played Club Congress in September (I've been friends with them for several years now) and he was describing the Conan O'Brien show they'd recently played. The nutty Jeff Goldblum was the other guest, and the day before the taping, Sheff rewrote a verse of "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe," a song filled with movie-related imagery, to reflect Goldblum's illustrious film history. They backed off the idea at the last minute on the advice of management, but the verse emerged shortly afterwards.
At The Independent in San Francisco, Sheff told the tale himself, injecting the verse at the beginning of the song.
Hear it for yourself:
Okkervil River - Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (Live)
And after downloading Golden Opportunities, check back with Okkervil River's web site Friday, when the band will post answers to fan's questions about the covers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

From whence they came...

Modest Mouse are one of those bands that I had two introductions to - years apart and unrelated - and still took a bit of time to grab on my own.
This, of course, was waaaay back when such was possible, not in the pre-Internet days, but definitely in the pre-everything-we-now-use-the-Internet-for days.
When "Convenient Parking" showed up on a mix tape from Portland, I'd never heard of the band, and if Zia didn't have the album, then in those days I wasn't going to find it.
The band stuck around in my head a bit, but I didn't hear anything else until "Gravity Rides Everything" came in on recommendation when I was living in Phoenix and asking close friends what their five favorite songs were (this of course being the first time I did that, not the much-expanded second time, when I polled 105 people). Freaktown said it reminded him of driving through the hills of his Southern California home at the time.
Ah, and Zia had Modest Mouse this time around. I told Dr. Chung when I bought The Moon & Antarctica, and he said they've been the next big thing for a while (presumably since I first heard and half-ignored them).
Revisiting that progression, I'm interested mostly in the fact that Modest Mouse is probably one of the last bands (at least new, indie-type bands) that I discovered without blogs or myspace, and in the case of "Convenient Parking," without burned CDs, Napster, mp3s, or even the Internet at all.
Word-of-mouth still drives most music discoveries (personally, to be sure, but I'd wager it's a pretty universal truth), but that secondary bit of exploration is exceptionally easy now. And in that regard, I think it's far easier to simply forget where, when or how I pick up that first scrap of information about some new music or other. I can trace Modest Mouse directly to CKB and Freaktown, and countless other bands back to the original friend (or occasionally zine or magazine) source. Not so much with newer stuff. (Iron & Wine a good example there - I can't for the life of me pinpoint a single source or two even. I vaguely remember having a sudden interest, then hearing a number of songs from wherever - most likely illegally - and buying several records in short order. Now I'm a fan all the way.)
This is mostly a roundabout way to start thinking about the Modest Mouse show tomorrow at the Rialto Theatre. It's my first time to catch them live, despite all those years.
And in that spirit, here are some live tracks, recorded for an XFM session:
Modest Mouse - Float On (Live)
Modest Mouse - Ocean Breathes Salty
Modest Mouse - The World At Large

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pat Garrett y Billy the Kid, por Sam Peckinpah

There's nothing quite like watching a movie and seeing Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan speaking in badly dubbed Spanish. Gracias a Dios the Spanish channel doesn't dub the soundtrack.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Da Windy Easy

I had a good conversation the other day with a good friend who's relocated to Chicago. He's one of many and I can't help but think all of my Chicago pals are sort of on the same wavelength -- they're all fighting off that stupid cold wind, they all have the same landmarks day-to-day, they meet up at bars I've never set foot in... It's such a fun city and I definitely need to visit again, hopefully this spring or summer.

But in the meantime, feast on some Chicago tunes:

First up is The Seychelles, a one-man outfit that splits the difference between indie rock and drum'n'bass. Sometimes I hear huge Pavement influences (musically, not vocally), sometimes it's far dancier stuff of a vintage I just don't know. Much of the Seychelles stuff has a great solitary feel that I really dig. It's a guitar/keyboard/drum machine combo that few people do quite so well.
The Seychelles - 13 Hundred Songs, 3 and a half days
The Seychelles - Breakdance at Tiffany's

Next up is Lost Armada, a four-piece that like many others owes a great debt to the Replacements and Neil Young. They can be full-on rowdy or back-porch strummy and do each with plenty of conviction. They've got one EP out this year, but here's an earlier demo track that shows power and songwriting chops. There's no shortage of barroom country/punks who have called the Midwest home, but don't skip over these guys.
Lost Armada - All Light Exchanged For Sight

Friday, November 30, 2007

New & Improved

The staff has put in some work to spiffy up the blog and we're sure you'll love the new look.
Navigation is easier as well and the blog list has been updated (look for more to come).
We'll also be experimenting with some more multimedia content.
On that note, it gives great pleasure to provide this gem, a rare demo by The Swim. Enjoy.
The Swim - Beautiful Endeavor
They're playing Dec. 1 at Che's Lounge, so anyone in Tucson, go on down and check 'em out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I just got back from watching Warren Miller's latest film down at the Fox Theatre (isn't it strange that I'd never been there before, then attended two events in three days? Monday's Iron & Wine show was incredible!).
I've long been a fan of his ski and snowboard films, which isn't a surprise considering he basically invented the genre. But for me it's always been more about Miller's narrative abilities and how he infuses his films with a great energy, taken from his simple mantra: If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do.
I haven't skied in nearly 11 years. Writing that, it kinda pains me that it's been so long. It was a trip during Christmas break my senior year of high school, out to New Mexico with the pop and the bro, to crash with friends in Farmington (shithole!) and venture out to the glorious Wolf Creek and the stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road Hesperus. (Coincidentally, the car-ride hours of that same trip were dominated via headphones by my newly acquired Recovering the Satellites album, which would later offer 'Angels of the Silences,' 'Miller's Angels' and 'A Long December' to Miller's Snowriders 2, the first of his films I'd see on the big screen.)
I was never much good. I could get down the not-too-steep hills just fine, but I was never too daring. What I liked most was zipping down fairly flat ground, not having to turn much, just enveloped in the nearly motionless gliding speed. To me, it was kinetic energy at its most peaceful. There's no other way on Earth to move quite like that, and it's absolutely exhilarating.
I learned at Williams Ski Area, an out-of-the-way mountain that was cheap enough and small enough to allow anybody more than enough runs in a day. There just simply weren't any crowds or lines. I still see that whole ski area in my mind clearly - though from a quick search on the 'Net it's apparently now called Elk Ridge Ski Area. But that map is still the same, and I know exactly what it represents.
I miss the feeling -- but skiing is expensive, and I live in the desert, and just a couple weeks after that last ski trip I blew out my left knee, which still doesn't feel completely strong...
Someday again I'll ski -- and that's the overriding inspiration that Miller's films provide.
But I also take away this tremendous spiritual uplift. The photography is gorgeous, the athletes are the best in the world, but Miller without a doubt captures skiing at its essence, which is the simple fact that it exists outside of day-to-day reality. It's an escape, it's pursued feverishly by people who can't be tied down, whose only drive is to go where there's fresh powder. Fresh powder, probably the most powerfully metaphorical playing field in all of sports. Skiing is exploration and escape -- and you're afforded a good bit of each just sitting there in the theatre.
I've now seen at least five of Miller's films on the annual big-screen tour (out of 58 total). It's just a ball of fun (though expensive -- I lucked into a free $20 ticket tonight). Playground was this year's title. There's little better for a pick-me-up as the winter arrives than getting a dose of Miller's quirky philosophy and get-up-and-go mentality. He's truly inspirational, even if you've never touched snow in your life. All he asks is that you grab a little adventure in your life.
See you next year, same time, same place...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Solid proof that Carson Daly is Hollywood's biggest douchebag

I'd long suspected as much, but now this proves it: Daly to defy writers strike.
That asshole isn't worth the weight of his smarmy grin without writers. Since when did an inexplicable habit of bagging starlets before they washed up earn people their own TV shows?

Seriously though. Six gigantic multinational corporations are trying to suffocate thousands upon thousands of hard-working writers even more than they've been for years. Support the writers.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Back to Back to Back to Back

Just try cramming more live music into a weekend. (I know it can be done, but it's definitely a special case.)

Start off Thursday with the Swim opening for Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. Watch your friends on stage opening for one of their heroes. Then enjoy the fantastic, fast and frenetic songs of one of rock's great unheralded songwriters.

Chill at home Friday before heading out to catch another of the rare Fourkiller Flats shows. Wish you had a ride home, knowing that whiskey drinking is the most effective and appropriate way to absorb the wailing, gravely twang of the Flats. Listen to mostly unrecorded songs, including one in all likelihood played for the first time live, thinking all the while that it's definitely time for a new album (right, gentlemen?).

Decide that a bright and beautiful Saturday in the mid-80s is perfect for sitting in the park, celebrating a used book store that's not only survived for 30 years, but grown and grown and grown and inevitably become an integral part of your own life. Settle in with a chicken quesadilla on a blanket front and center while a bunch of old blues session players crank out pitch-perfect, passionate tunes.

Then let Tucson's favorite sons and their best mariachi friends let loose with what must be about the best of the dozen or so shows of theirs you've taken in. Remember how you first saw Calexico with maybe a couple hundred people stuffed into an art gallery by the railroad tracks, must've been 1999 or 2000. Remember how they seemed to have a pedal for the passing train, and how they set the room on fire. Remember how on three or four albums since those same musicians captured a hell of a lot more attention and without a doubt became one of the world's greatest bands. Sit in anticipation for a particular song, a Bob Dylan cover you'd been soaking in for months, with several different bootleg recordings, before finally hearing them back Willie Nelson on "Senor." Celebrate as the trumpets bellow loud and mysterious. Shimmy and sway as the show stretches many songs and songs and songs afterwards. Depart with a poster and autographs, and the knowledge that such musical moments are priceless.

Let Sunday evolve slowly, but make sure to head downtown in time to catch the Skeletor parade. Mosey from there on over to the Ween show. Marvel at how packed the Rialto Theatre is, betting that none of the dozens of shoes you've seen there in the past several years had more people. Rock out with one of the strangest bands around. Ponder how despite never being fully joking or fully serious they've developed such a passionate following. Wish you knew a few more of their songs other than the Mollusk album.

Practically stagger out of the show, pausing to take in the painted masses and assorted weirdos passing by, hell-bent on some damn mischief or another. Let the fading crowd take over your thoughts, and provide the cinematic background for reflection on a weekend full of energy and curveball vitality and stupifying humanity, and sounds, wonderfully delivered sounds, that lodge themselves deep, as they should, offering continual refuge in the coming days and weeks from the numbing work and tasks that exist apart from the nights and the bands and the revelry and the nirvana of a well-orchestrated weekend.

Celebrate it all, and wait for the next round...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Upon Return...

A deep and overriding exhaustion, more mind-altering than the beer that took control of my last night in Brooklyn.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Manhattan skyline

Here's the view from my cousin's apartment in Queens. That's the Empire State Building prominent on the left, with the UN obscuring all but the tippy top of the Chrysler Building. Foreground to the right is the back of the Pepsi Cola sign on this side of the East River. Nice digs.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dispatches from the East

Currently sitting on banks of East River staring at Manhattan skyline Stop Bars and comedy show last night in Queens and Art Brut and The Hold Steady in Philly Stop Ansel Adams and Annie Leibowitz exhibits at the Corcoran and boating on the Potomac and a rooftop party in view of the Capitol Stop Air & Space Museum World War II memorial and the Mall Stop Friends got married on lunch hour Stop Many great friends and laughter and incredible sights and sounds and steady consumption of Yuengling Stop Returning Sunday Stop

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Catfish off to the East Coast

Well, I'm leaving in the morning as soon as the dark clouds lift...
Not actually, but there's nothing better to announce the night before you take off for someplace else. I'm thrilled to be headed to D.C., Philly and NYC. And the news from Felix Hurn tonight makes the whole trip even better: Next Tuesday we'll rock out at the Hold Steady show. Boo-ya!
Untold hours of fun and adventure await. It's time for another 'Ninjas of Fun' stealth attack -- East Coast style.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Catfish at the bluegrass festival with a half million other people, part two

After loading up with beers, Freaktown and I got into the park Saturday just in time to hear Guy Clark singing out LA Freeway on our way to catch James McMurtry on the way to John Prine. And in the only really large music festival I’ve attended, I immediately came to grips with all the concessions you have to make to time and space and crowds and hunger and restroom breaks and moods and everything. But I settled easily into the see-who-I-can-see-but-make-sure-the-festival-is-about-fun-and-friends mentality and let that drive everything. We met up with S and D and C and family and after the Flatlanders settled in on a few blankets in front of the main stage. (Thanks to those who staked out the place.) From there it was Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, Gillian Welch and Steve Earle. If my favorite song day one was Remember the Mountain Bed, day two’s was Gillian and David doing Queen Jane Approximately.

Many of the songs I enjoyed most during the festival were covers and I think that make perfect sense in the realm of bluegrass (and hardly strictly bluegrass) music. Country and folk have always been about the standards, with everyone of note giving his or her or their own interpretation of the great songs. While the songwriter may seem king in this arrangement, it’s really more about the performance. If everyone’s playing the same songs, that sets a level playing field and the better rendition comes out on top. And some songs are just perfect in a bluegrass festival setting. Walking back toward the main stage later Sunday, with a good bit of the festival under my belt, I just felt like Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere would be just perfect. And, no shit, within a half hour, Earl Scruggs and his boys were belting it out: “Ooh whee, ride me high, tomorrow’s the day my bride’s a-gonna come / Oh oh, are we gonna fly, down in the easy chair.”

And then there’s the universal truths offered by a lot of the best country and folk music. Steve Earle said it best as he was tuning between songs: “Same girl, different harmonica.”

We were down at the park Sunday in time to catch the Sadies, and just as I was sure she would, Neko joined in, singing Evangeline, with her in Emmylou’s role just forming a great bookend on that day. We were all looser with Sunday’s schedule, settling in a ways back from our main-stage camp of a day earlier. I ate the best corndog ever. A couple of us made a beer run after realizing that the day’s supply was woefully insufficient – and in doing so made a few bucks selling later on to fellow festival-goers as their own supplies dwindled. I ran over to see Dave Alvin on a smaller stage that seemed even more crowded. The boom operator there had a much easier time passing the camera right over the crowd, and I tried giving a different look or gesture each time it caught me. Maybe there’ll be a DVD of the festival, and thousands of people across the world will have documented proof of my existence…

Sunday was the heaviest bluegrass day, with David Grisman, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson leading up to Emmylou. It was the first time I’d seen the legendary Queen of country-folk and her set was incredible (as I can prove to anyone with the bootleg I’ve snagged). Highlights were Pancho and Lefty, Red Dirt Girls and Sin City, but really the whole thing kept me moving in that half-dance thing I described earlier, a swaying, twisting, head-bobbing casual sort of shimmy thing.

I couldn’t have asked for better companions throughout, reconnecting with several people I’d hardly gotten to see in years and realizing why the hell I’m friends with all these awesome people to being with. Overall I feel as though I pulled some minor logistical miracles getting together so many people who I knew but didn’t or barely knew each other.

At the close of the festival we all assembled, stuffed too many people into a two-door Honda and then a studio apartment, ordered Burmese food and re-upped on some beer and Fernet. We listened to a Wilco bootleg I’d brought as a gift for my hosts, watched a bit of the Wilco documentary to zero in on that Santa Cruz record store owner, and talked about the city and life and Arizona and how so many people managed to start in Tucson and end up in San Francisco. I was invited a few times to move there, encouraged to make Bay City my home too, to take part in such notable occasions on a regular basis. What could be more convincing? What could make a better argument than those friends and that weekend? It’s hands-down the highlight of the year.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Catfish at the bluegrass festival with a half million other people, part one

Blogging things a week late is never good form, but the price extracted for my tremendous San Francisco vacation was way too much work and stress immediately upon return. Plus, most of my computer time since has been devoted to tracking down bootlegs of the performances I saw, with surprisingly good luck.

It was a relatively unplanned vacation, all starting with an email from Freaktown saying that I should do everything in my power to make it to the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. Yeah right, thought I, noting that it’s barely a week before my long-planned swing to the East Coast and short-notice airfare is as big a discourager as anything. But I kept looking over the list of artists: Jeff Tweedy, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Dave Alvin, John Prine, Gillian Welch, plus a whole host of actual bluegrass legends. Had I never known it was coming I couldn’t possibly hate myself for missing it, but now that it was presented as an actual option, how could I not? So I searched out a decently priced flight, scammed an extra day off work and ultimately spent the whole weekend feeling like I’d won some damned contest.

I stopped and started writing this a few times, and at each step the words fell far short of the magic that I felt while listening to the music. But live music is like that – fleeting and powerful, at times transcendent and at times a buoyant current you ride for a while, and try to hang onto as it flows through you. At times during the performances I tried to see the music, to let my eyes fall somewhere, a tree or a bird or a section of the massive crowd, and watch it move, watch for moments it matched the music, as if the sound was a wind. Other times my own body was what got caught up in the tunes, more of a set of loose sways and twists than anything resembling an actual dance, but it was mostly bluegrass and that’s pretty much how I roll anyway.

Tweedy in particular was mesmerizing. One man, one guitar, one voice, an occasional harmonica, and a set of songs that stack up very favorably with anything every written or performed. I don’t say that lightly, or with hyperbole. It’s a very measured and purposeful statement, but everyone who stood near me as those songs washed over us in the dying afternoon, sunset and early dusk of a perfect San Francisco day in the park would agree.

I’ve long said that Remember The Mountain Bed – a collaboration across time and space between Tweedy and the legendary Woody Guthrie – is probably the best song ever written. I’ll just include one favorite verse, but measure the rest of the lyrics yourself here:

I learned the reason why man must work and how to dream big dreams
To conquer time and space and fight the rivers and the seas
I stand here filled with my emptiness now and look at city and land
And I know why farms and cities are built by hot, warm, nervous hands.

And in just the second song of Tweedy’s set I was absolutely thrilled, hanging on the transformative wisdom of the words and the intricate, hauntingly beautiful guitar work, all the while aware that I was in the midst of one of the greatest musical moments I’ve ever experienced.

Just as Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks is an album that comes stunningly close to offering a definition of life, “Remember The Mountain Bed” is a song that nearly circles the total of humanity. (And if you think Blood On The Tracks is a nothing but a brilliant break-up or divorce album, with songs of pain and sorrow, you’re sadly missing out on a great deal.)

Tweedy was in a great mood, joking throughout, with his kids sitting on the side of the stage and at one point he dedicated a song to his wife.

The set list was great, opening with Sunken Treasure. I loved the mix of stuff from throughout his career, from old Uncle Tupelo stuff to an almost forgotten Golden Smog song to the title track from the latest album.

In the crowd during the Tweedy performance, Freaktown and I recognized a guy who was in the I Am Trying To Break Your Heart documentary during one part. It was unmistakable – he’s a record store owner in Santa Cruz who was backstage when Tweedy performed a show in San Francisco. He’s unmistakable, with a pretty thick beard that goes a bit further down the neck than most, and thick, straight, somewhat longish hair underneath a ball cap. It was so weird to actually see somebody from that movie in the crowd (having apparently many more viewings of the film under his belt, Freaktown also recognized somebody else, but I couldn’t place her), but then at one point this guy turned around and held his camera aloft to get a crowd shot. Holy shit, I thought, that guy from the movie now has a picture of us! For a while after that I let myself get lost in the trippy, circular ruminations around the fact that a perfect stranger and I both have documented proof of the other’s existence.

Taking the train over to the park Friday, Freaktown and I ran into SW practically the moment we boarded. Now there’s a little synchronicity to kick off the weekend, I thought. Then we met up with Tony and found our way in just before T-Bone Burnett started. We knew his special guests were Neko Case and John “Cougar” Mellencamp (never forget the “Cougar” part), but how that was going to all tie together was beyond any of us. Neko played Hank's Alone and Forsaken and another one I didn’t recognize. After a few more, out came the Coug (“The COUG!" we shouted). There was some song about Jena, then the real highlight, “Pink Houses,” with what I can only guess is the first and last time Neko sings “Ain’t that America” to back the Coug. Nice.

Then after Tweedy we all headed down to the Haight for sausages and beers, taking it easy with the knowledge of two more tremendous, long days of music ahead of us.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Holographic Gore...

... was the runner-up name for the latest mix, which ultimately became:

The Strangest Oscillations

Mose Allison - Young Man's Blues
M. Ward - Chinese Translation
Tom Waits - Bottom Of The World
Dean & Britta - Moonshot
Son Volt - Atmosphere
Pavement - Gold Soundz
Rainer Maria - Catastrophe
Calexico - Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)*
Gob Iron - Hills Of Mexico
James McMurtry - We Can't Make It Here
Arlo Guthrie - St. James Infirmary*
Steve Earle - Copperhead Road*
Townes Van Zandt - Rex's Blues*
Neil Young - After The Gold Rush
Dave Alvin - You're a Big Girl Now*
Okkervil River - Love to a Monster
Mazzy Star - Flowers in December*
Feist - One Evening
The Zombies - She's Not There*

(* Live)

and here's the one before that:

The July Plan

Okkervil River - The President's Dead
The Mountain Goats - Going To Georgia
The New Drakes - The Impossible You
Flogging Molly - If I Ever Leave This World Alive
Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon - Love Me, I'm A Liberal
The Hold Steady - Southtown Girls
Tom Petty - Ankle Deep
Billy Bragg - Saturday Boy*
Damien Rice - The Blower’s Daughter*
Tom Waits - San Diego Serenade*
The Band of Blacky Ranchette - Getting It Made
Lonna Kelly and the Broken-Hearted Lovers - I Should Have Known
Nico - I'll Keep It With Mine
The Sadies - Evangeline*
The Walkmen - Many Rivers To Cross
Ryan Adams - Dear Chicago
Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus Three - (A Man's Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs
Bruce Springsteen - Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?*
Bob Dylan - In The Summertime
Arlo Guthrie & Peter Seeger - Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)*

(* Live)

Others Previously:
Distant Gold
Whirlwind & Refuge
Talkin' Ponderosa Highway Blues
Momentary Fires

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My favorite cop of all time

Ex-Dearborn cop and wife, who said they made brownies with seized pot, face charge
A former Dearborn police corporal who was allowed to resign from the department last year amid allegations he used confiscated marijuana to bake pot brownies with his wife could be sentenced to up to 90 days in prison for using a controlled substance.The real treat in all this is the recording of the 911 call he made.
The real beauty of this story is the tape of the 911 call, when Officer Dipshit asks for the score on the Redwings game after saying "We made brownies and I really think we're dead, I really do."
Check it yo:

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The imprecise measurement of time...

Let's just go ahead and call it a heck of a day.
I took care of my administrative tasks - oil change, picking up my custom framing order from Michael's - lickety split.
I picked up the new Paste magazine to read over a relaxing iced coffee (we're still in the 90s here, folks and dammit fall can't come soon enough).
I bought a new house plant, and finished naming the rest of them: Jackie, Roy, Don, Sandy, Pee-Wee, Mickey and Tommy. I considered anachronistic names like Herman and Mortimer, but I thought they'd be too tough to remember. Not really sure why they happen to be male... Stu said he used to name plants after musicians, Thurston and Kim and etc.
I spent some great time with the illustrious Robert Anthony Peters and his family.
Later I headed downtown to catch The Swim play a nice outdoor set.
No complaints at all, but answer me this: Why do Saturday's contain half the hours of your average Monday?

Random thoughts from the last bunch o' days

- Tonight's New Pornographers show was fantastic. Each time I see the band (this was the third) I like them more and more. Songs from the new album were really well done and the band filled the theater with an incredible, swelling energy during "The Bleeding Heart Show," causing the song to leap over a handful of others to become my favorite NP song. Dan Bejar is hilariously tangential to the overall performance. He just hangs out in the wings drinking beer most of the show, emerging four or five times to play guitar and sing. At one point, one of Neko Case's dogs wandered out onto the stage and just plopped down at her feet. Fun times indeed.

- Afterwards I had several good chats, ending up down the road at Sports On Congress with a certain Chango Malo bass player. We talked about bands and playing live and being on the road and "making it" and what dedication really means. I have high hopes for that band, a bunch of great dudes who possess an absolutely electrifying live show and a new album that combines swagger and nuance, a mess of energy and guitars wrapping up a singer who you can just hear leaving the last drop of his soul in the songs.
We also talked about the antiquated notion of "selling out," a topic I visited here, curiously enough using the New Pornographers as an example.

- I'm currently listening to Okkervil River, a live show from fall 2005. I'm hedging in some ways here, but for my money there's no better band to emerge this millennium. (Sure, the band was technically formed and released its first EP in 1999, but they themselves call the 2002 LP Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See the first "real record." Another gem from the Will Sheff-penned band bio at describes the addition of an ornithologist as a multi-instrumentalist - "He was a fine electric guitarist, so we handed him an accordion.")
I've failed up until this point to write my thoughts on the band's amazing new album, and their live set that was my personal highlight of the third annual Hotel Congress festival, so here goes a brief description: The new songs hold every bit the emotional and intellectual weight that the band's previously acclaimed records do, but with more accomplished musicianship all around. It's a wonder to watch a precocious band getting even better.
It helps that they're friends, at least in a superficial way, though with each new swing through Tucson I get to know the band better. After the Congress show some friends and I hung around with half the band and two thirds of the Friends of Dean Martinez until the wee hours, getting busted by Congress security for noisiness and violating the non smoking rule/law/policy.

- For any music fans out there, I can't say enough great things about and NPR's live concert series. Both are absolute treasure troves of fantastic music, all full live shows.
I must have downloaded 30 or so shows between the two, all legal, free and with sound quality at least equal to regular live albums released commercially. But a full show start to finish is much better than most commercially released "live" albums, which tend to be collections of live songs from many shows, or heavily edited in some way. I love the banter, the set lists and all the in-between stuff that really makes a live show stand out for someone. has more than 43,000 concerts at this moment, with more added all the time. Here are just a few Catfish Vegas recommendations: all six Calexico shows in the archive, a somewhat scratchy but absolutely captivating Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne radio show from Germany in 1976, Giant Sand's set at the Congress 20th anniversary festival, the Mountain Goats' show from the 40 Watt in Georgia last year, several Elliott Smith performances that show just how delicate the singer's life became in his latter days... and on and on. It takes a long while, but browse through the artist list for your favorites. There are plenty shows in MP3, as well as lossless FLAC versions. For more recommendations, write me or comment.
NPR's live concert series is something I've been impressed with for about two years, starting when I found a crystal clear sounding recording of the joint Calexico and Iron & Wine tour, which I saw here at the Rialto, transfixed for most of the night. Since, I've downloaded shows by Wilco, the Decemberists, Neko Case, the Walkmen, Sleater-Kinney, Arcade Fire, Son Volt, Jenny Lewis and the Drive-by Truckers. And all are top-notch. The lineup for this fall includes John Vanderslice, Rilo Kiley, Animal Collective (which I'll either avoid or download to try and figure out why I enjoyed their show here so little), Okkervil River, Josh Ritter, Spoon and the New Pornographers. No shit, NPR is gonna bring it this fall.

- Many, many more shows in town this fall. I'm certainly going to have to pick and choose. I did already pick up Ween tickets for myself, The General and Katred, so that'll be a strange evening. Other shows on the horizon include Neko, Modest Mouse, Gwar (??!), Iron & Wine and Ted Leo (with local openers The Swim and The Deludes -- AWESOME!), and that's honestly just a cursory list of the upcoming shows. Some decisions will have to be made.

- I keep getting the occasional stranger approaching to bestow monster props on my Rad Racing T-shirt. For a 21-year-old movie about BMX racing that hasn't even made it to DVD, Rad has some fucking staying power. As I say when I get those compliments, "Hells Yeah." Order yours today online.

- Lots of big goings and doings coming up on the horizon. I head to Flagstaff this week. Then out to San Fran and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival early Oct. Then barely a week later I leave for the East Coast - gonna rock D.C., Philly and NYC for 11 days. Boo-yah!

- That's probably it for tonight. Gonna crash then devote tomorrow to picking up my framed Jackie Robinson photographs from Michaels, get the oil changed in ol Excaliber Jeebus, buy some more plants from Home Depot to give the house a more lively appearance, have dinner with Robert Anthony Peters and then head Downtown to catch The Swim.
Everybody have a nice September. I hate to cop to how rare my blogging is, but I have to steal this line from Cicci: If this blog was a pet lizard it would've died by now.

- Maybe if there was an ancient Norse god of blogging I'd be doing better.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Mr. Chair considers the Fourth of July as his own personal New Year and I've long considered the end of the first half of the year a time fit for reflection (ignore the fact that it's mid-August as I actually get around to this review).
So what news is there to report from 2007's waxing half? Now that's a damn good question.
I had a weekly basketball game starting in January until it got too hot, plus I teamed up with some work dudes on a softball team that ran from March through May, so this year started off on a greater athletic note than anytime in the last decade. And man, my knees did a lot of hurting for a while. Of course, since softball ended I've been uber lazy, so I don't think that athleticism is a fair way to characterize this whole 2007.5. But it felt great to be back on the court and the field, even though I have next to no quickness or jumping ability any more, and my swing is in need of professional help (hey, at least I'm still slick in the infield).
I had a couple of great trips to Phoenix-land ("you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy") visiting friends, a couple of whom have since taken off for Orlando. I had a tremendous trip to Flagstaff and even hit P-Town a couple of times, most recently a month ago to collect a wonderful coffee mug in honor of being unrecognizable.
I had a terrific week in Portland, lured in by offers of a Son Volt show. The first few hours of my visit have been rightly labeled a "trainwreck of a night at Ladd's." Lots of great food and bars, a trip to the coast and one out to the Columbia Gorge. I got to spend time with a childhood friend I'd lost touch with (it turns out myspace is in fact good for something) and hadn't seen in 10 years.
I mentioned the Son Volt show in Portland (which was fantastic - I've always been a Farrar fan and hadn't seen him play in almost nine years), so here's some thoughts on other live music highlights so far this year: Stephen Malkmus was absolutely on fire, playing mostly new stuff to a packed Plush; Robyn Hitchcock and his new band (including Peter Buck) brought a great rock 'n' roll sound I was thrilled to hear after seeing him twice solo; Alejandro Escovedo and the Drive-by Truckers were a super double bill; the Hold Steady are even more incredible now that I know a couple of their albums; the Riverboat Gamblers drew me out for the first all-out punk show I've seen in years; and finally, there are few things better in life than spending time with an absolute legend like Arlo or Dylan (and a fellow fan like Josh).
I've also spent a lot of time checking out the stellar local bands: The Swim (who paired with the New Drakes in a double bill I absolutely loved), Chango Malo (thanks for playing my birthday), Fourkiller Flats (who unfortunately appear to be on hiatus again), Little Morts (moving to Austin doesn't mean you're not still local as far as I'm concerned boys) and my favorite new local crew, Mostly Bears. I can't wait 'til next Friday's Chango-Stock.
So for recorded music, I say run out right now and buy the new Wilco and Okkervil River albums. Also highly recommended are new ones by Modest Mouse, Feist, Arcade Fire, Shins, Son Volt and White Stripes. And for the rest of the year, I'm eagerly awaiting Band of Horses, New Pornographers, Iron & Wine and Steve Earle. Plus, I'm really intrigued by this Dylan bio-pic and its soundtrack.
And thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I've spent a lot of time digging early Neil Young records, old soul like the Delfonics, Tom Waits bootlegs from the mid 70s and a slew of great Dylan covers. Plus I've been able to track down seven versions of "St. James Infirmary," a spellbinding New Orleans folk tune I first heard Arlo perform.
As far as the cinema goes, I didn't go to a single movie until two weeks ago, when I caught the Simpsons, a not-quite-great-but-good-like-you'd-expect-because-it's-the-Simpsons type of a flick. Then last weekend I caught Knocked Up at the cheap theater, where I'm likely headed again either tonight or tomorrow, for either Shrek or Oceans 13. So there.
I hosted two pairs of friends visiting town as part of long moves. I acted in my first feature film. I caught some ball games. I went to Peter Piper Pizza on Tuesday. And thankfully I have neither the mess or the nonsense that were running me down when I last made a half-year report.
So that's a quick run down of the year so far. What'll come next? Hell if I know much. There's that Chango Malo show on Friday, plus the annual Club Congress festival over Labor Day weekend that has none other than Okkervil River on the bill.
I've come across some great old black and white photographs of the Dodgers, circa 1950s and 1960s, so I'm gonna frame them.
I'm hoping to orchestrate a trip to the East Coast sometime this fall.
And overall I just hope things keep going at least OK. And same wish for y'all.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Dear clueless NBA & MLB & ABC & Fox marketing people:
David Blaine and Dane Cook suck. They don't have a goddamn thing to do with the sports they're advertising. Nobody wants to hear their stupid shit. Those Blaine spots during the NBA playoffs and the Cook nonsense now during baseball games make me want to turn off the TV, not watch the games. Why the hell do you have to put some dick-faced half-celebrity in your ads anyway? This cross-marketing shit annoys the hell out of me. How 'bout putting PLAYERS in your ads? Dumbasses.

p.s. There's nothing better in the world than an 80 degree high temperature during a Tucson August.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Walking toward the amphitheater, I saw as close to a complete double rainbow as I've ever seen. The lower one was bright and strong, horizon to horizon. The top one was fainter, but visible except for maybe the very top 10 percent. Framed in glory -- what a way to approach a show.
Tonight was my 10th Bob Dylan show, stretching back to 1996. (I had to check online to count 'em all: 1996 in Mesa, Dylan & Simon in San Diego and Phoenix in 1999, San Diego in 2000, Sun City in 2001, Phoenix and Tucson in 2002, Sun City and Tucson last year and then last night.)
Last night definitely beat last April at the TCC arena, largely due to the crowd, but mainly just the vibe in general.
I have to admit, I was looking forward to tonight's show with the least amount of enthusiasm I've had yet approaching a Dylan show. For one it's midweek, no road trip involved, I just saw him twice last year, and I don't really dig shows at the casino. Hell, I only bought my ticket last night and finalized plans on going with friends practically on the way there. I damn near felt guilty that I wasn't set on fire to see this show.
But hell, it's just about as strong a show as I've seen outta the man -- and I wasn't even backstage (like four of my 10 shows).
I love the songs off the new album. Dylan busted out five of the 10 Modern Times tracks, plus another two from Love and Theft. And he played for probably as long as any show I've seen -- 17 songs, when the last two were just 14.
My favorites from the night were the unexpected "Señor" (which I've really been digging in a new light after hearing an incredible Calexico version) and "Simple Twist of Fate" (which I've never seen before), "Masters of War" (which just gets more jagged every time I hear it performed) and "Workingman's Blues" (with a favorite line of mine, thanks to a shirt I have with it on the back -- 'You can hang back or fight you best on the front line'). And the band lit "Summer Days" and "Thunder on the Mountain" on fire, no doubt.
All in all a damn fine show, certainly in the top half of my 10 shows and definitely the best I've seen in a long while (maybe back to the last AVA performance), though last year's Sun City show had a very unique and intriguing set list.
My props go out to Josh and Andrea for taking in the show with me and transportating. Proper companions definitely take a show to the next level.
I guess that just leaves me with a final statement on Dylan's Never Ending Tour, the only one I've ever gotten to see and one I know a great deal about, with an insider's perspective courtesy of a certain "uncle" bus driver: each Dylan show gives you something unique; the set list couldn't be more flexible; but you have to kind of know what to expect (new melodies, a crazy sense of juxtaposition in regard to albums and eras; blues and folk sounds as much as rock; no banter); and more than anything, if his voice is sounding clear, you know you're in for a treat.

And as a last note, here's the most random and eerie thing of the whole endeavor:
Leaving the parking lot after the show, we were behind a car with the license plate: 724-AVA, which was the date and the venue of the show. Trippy dude, trippy.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quick report...

How, exactly, should one react to being voted "Most Changed" at his 10-year high school reunion?

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I have no outright beef generally with good music being placed in advertisements, but I gotta admit shock whenever I hear a band I dig on the TV backing something or another.
I just now saw a University of Phoenix ad featuring the New Pornographers.

And then there's the new VW/Wilco ad:

I can clearly remember hearing Richard Buckner in another VW ad. And the first I heard Devendra Banhart was in a New Belguim ad (I actually discovered the world of music-in-TV-ads message boards searching out what the hell that tune was).

In my mind, the notion of "selling out" as it's usually applied to music certainly predates Napster, if not the mass use of the Internet itself. Between the Net and digital music distribution methods and Clear Channel and the unapologetically dirty world of record label consolidation, things just ain't remotely the same any more.
I don't think that excuses anything outright. But I think there needs to be a new conversation on the matter, including everybody who holds an opinion.

Having met folks from most of the bands mentioned above (if just in the fan-at-a-show way), I can't bring myself to hold a hard line on the subject. Frankly, it just may be a post-modern, anti-anti sort of way of excusing previously DIY-banned behavior, but I reckon the phrase "sell out" is just about done.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Catfish on the way to the nightclub

It's almost time to head out and catch Shearwater. I'm curious about what I've heard from the Austin band (a good chunk of the latest record as it was first released, plus an earlier split 7 inch) and excited to see some quasi friends again. Shearwater shares at least two members with Okkervil River, hands down one of my favorite bands these days. The difference is the songwriting, and it's a hell of a difference because without knowing, I'd never guess the bands shared some members.
Shearwater is fronted by Jonathan Meiburg, the keyboardist and ornithologist, while Okkervil River is fronted by Will Sheff, the guitarist and movie critic. And that's a gross oversimplification of each of them, but they're both in both bands.
I mention quasi friends because Okkervil River played show here on Thanksgiving a few years back and all ate dinner at my house and crashed there later. I've chatted with them each time they've been through since and you'd have a tough time finding a more fascinating group of musicians and all-around weirdos.
Anyway, high hopes for a band that I'm fairly unfamiliar with musically despite what else I know of its membership.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

That's the Thanks I Get

It's of course highly dubious that Jeff Tweedy read my blog review on Sky Blue Sky and rushed the band back into the studio, but the end result is the same: I'm sitting here listening to a rocking full-band version of "Is That The Thanks I Get?" The band does not disappoint. Rush out and get your own Sky Blue Sky copy now if you haven't already, and make sure to stick it in your computer to download the bonus song. It's the best of the whole bunch.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Birthday Mr. Dylan!

In honor of Mr. Dylan's 66th birthday today, check out this parody. But, after you do, go ahead and listen to some real Dylan. Take your pick, but you owe it to the man today to celebrate his tunes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sky Blue Sky - soulful rock 'n' roll glory

Sky Blue Sky is Jeff Tweedy’s most soulful batch of tunes, yet the record unquestioningly will go down as the “Nels Cline” Wilco album. The new lead guitarist is prevalent in every track, at every turn and twist in the music and completely in step with Tweedy throughout, giving the singer and songwriter a freedom he’s never had before in recording.

Critically (and in the blogs), the record is discussed overall as mellow, classic-rock sounding, safe and (for those who can’t live without bashing good music) dull. Bullshit. Sky Blue Sky may be Wilco’s most subtle and most layered record, but it’s also full of tension and mobility. Where before there was swagger, now there’s smarts; where there was noise, now there’s tunefulness; where there was angst, there’s now a songwriter navigating his struggles with wisdom.

Wilco was never anywhere near as “experimental” as they got labeled in regards to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, mostly by people who were new to the band. Nor was the band ever as “country” as previously labeled, by the people who ignored them until YHF.

Tweedy says as much in an interview with Pitchfork, a publication which then turned around as if it hadn’t been listening one bit and panned the album, dismissively calling it “dad-rock” in a review I consider the publication’s shark-jumping moment, losing the last bit of relevance on the road from “take it with a grain of salt” to “don’t even bother reading.”

The one moment on the album that nails me to the wall – and hits the mark so clearly in defining the album’s strengths – is the latter two thirds or so of “Impossible Germany.” The song is just swept up by its own guitar solos, an intertwining dance of Cline and Tweedy, two couldn’t-be-more-different styles hopscotching around each other in joy and kindness. The song conjures both night and day, childhood and today. It’s truly a conversation, drenched in amazing emotions, always balancing each other out. The guitars are filled with motion, creating a spinning sensation and an exploration that embarks and retreats, over and over. I can’t begin to pinpoint a meaning in the lyrics overall (Impossible Germany / Unlikely Japan ?? Is there some WWII connection?), but toward the end, when Tweedy sings “This is what love is for / To be out of place / Gorgeous and alone / Face to face,” he captures that same sensation, a sort of necessary tension that holds life together.

The music is so compelling and Tweedy not only brings his best singing voice after quitting the smokes, but has reached a new level in terms of creating incredible melodies. So in that sense it’s disappointing that some of Tweedy’s lyrics this time around are, if not his least evocative and least insightful (watch the Sunken Treasure DVD for that joke), definitely his least adventurous.
There’s no “I dreamed about killing you again last night” or “a fixed bayonet through the great Southwest to forget here” or even a sly “You’re gonna make me spill my beer” to be found, but it seems like Tweedy is perfectly content in the simpler images.
“Shake It Off” starts with Tweedy describing how the “Sunlight angles on / A wooden floor at dawn.” “A ceiling fan is on / Chopping up my dreams,” he continues, but the song, lyrically at least, never gets much more interesting.
Anyone in search of an overall artistic statement on the album would do best to zero in on the second-to-last song, the terrific and catchy “What Light.”

To me perhaps the thing that has defined Wilco most as a band is the fact that while no album sounds quite like another, each contains at least one song that would mesh perfectly with any other album (a contention I’ve made before: A.M. – Dash 7; Being There – Misunderstood, at least; Summerteeth – How To Fight Lonliness; YHF – Poor Places; A Ghost Is Born – The Late Greats, which is absolutely the most Wilco of all Wilco songs).

“What Light” holds that position here, an even-tempoed rocker that starts jangly strummed 12-string acoustic guitar and in perfect measure adds three other guitars, piano and organ, a sound that’s never too much and never too little. Tweedy opens with a stanza that’s daring in its simplicity, a purposeful and unapologetic bit of advice that could easily double as a self-fulfilling mantra he built the record around: “If you feel like singing a song / And you want other people to sing along / Just sing what you feel / Don’t let anyone say it’s wrong.”

The repeated chorus in “Leave Me Like You Found Me” sounds like it’s coming from somebody whose been shoved under a microscope and from Tweedy, it could be a plea to just about anybody – perhaps spurred by his band’s new found place as Rock’s Most Scrutinize, or leftover from his scrutinized trip to rehab, or his epic record-company battles, band-mate exists, or even the dissolution of Uncle Tupelo.

Other highlights are the laid-back, almost funky groove of “I Hate It Here,” the jaunty “Walken” and “You Are My Face,” which musically sounds closest to the Mermaid Avenue sessions and lyrically like Tweedy picked a little bit out of ol’ Woody’s pocket: “Why is there no breeze / no currency of leaves.”

Most songs build and turn, shifting instruments flawlessly, with a sound much more like a live performance than they’ve ever nailed on record. Which is definitely encouraging, after listening to how the live show gave new life to the A Ghost is Born songs on Kicking Television.

By biggest (and really only) complaint is the absence of “Is That the Thanks I Get,” which showed up in a Tweedy solo version on the Live in the Northwest DVD. Well, I’ve heard a full-band version, last summer on Conan O’Brien’s show, and it was incredible. It’s a tune Tweedy wrote for Solomon Burke to sing on the the Don’t Give Up On Me album and I love the spare version. But backed by the rest of his Wilco mates, the song comes alive as a bouncy soul groove, with a hooky sing-along chorus and chocked full of guitars, piano and organ fills. It’s the same direction I see Tweedy going with the Sky Blue Sky songs, so I hope a new recording turns up somewhere.

Now, I’ll repeat a little drill I did in writing about A Ghost Is Born, listing the opening lyrics from each Wilco album, chronologically backwards:

“When I sat down on the bed next to you / You started to cry”
“I am an American aquarium drinker / I assassin down the avenue”
“The way things go / You get so low / Struggle to find your skin”
“When you're back in your old neighborhood / The cigarettes taste so good”
“You always wanted more time / To do what you / Always wanted to do”

As I pointed out then, it’s full of I’s and You’s, all infused with this mobility, a certain sort of tension there that bore out as the albums wore on. There’s always been a sort of struggle that has defined Tweedy’s lyrics up until now. And while it’s certainly not gone, this is the first time it’s really matched by contentment, or wisdom, or maybe best described as a sly “So it goes” attitude.

So when Tweedy open Sky Blue Sky with “Maybe the sun will shine today / The clouds will blow away / Maybe I won’t feel so afraid / I will try to understand / Either way,” he really sounds like a new man in a sense.

In interviews he’s said just as much: that this was the easiest Wilco album to make, the most collaborative recording process, overall the simplest and most fruitful experience. I love the notion that music making doesn’t have to involve tremendous stress or heartbreak or struggle, or that songs don’t have to come out of a dark place to relate something important. Why Wilco has been dinged some for this album I’ll never understand – it’s beautiful, but not achingly or hauntingly so, just comfortable whether it’s spare or full in sound, with a core of emotion that’s neither dark or soaring, just occasionally content. There’s no doubt the new players, particularly Cline, have pushed this band musically, and that they made perhaps a simpler and subtler record than they’re capable of just means to me that it was what the songs called for. And the songs are tremendous, with a soulful rock ‘n’ roll glory throughout that no other band today can match.