Archive for December, 2007

Goodness knows, it’s been a wonderful run…

Monday, December 31st, 2007

As the year draws to a close, I’m feeling the urge to reflect back on the year that was. Sometime during my 5-week tour across Europe in May/June 2001, I came to the realization that I was living the best days of my life, and that every year of my life since 1994 (when I was 13 and miserable) had been a significant improvement on the year before. Remarkably, as of December 2007 my streak remains intact. The following are 5 events that set 2007 apart…

Arcade Fire / LCD Soundsystem @ Starlight Theatre, 9/28/2007

I had been privy to Arcade Fire’s brilliance since late 2004 when I was blown away by Funeral as well as a high quality audience recording of their 11/27/2004 gig. Due to my preoccupation with the imminent destruction of Busch Stadium, I missed my best (only) chance to see them in 2005. They were always in the back of my mind though.

When Neon Bible leaked in early 2007, it was clear this band had not been ruined by success. A North American tour was announced shortly thereafter with a 3-night stand in Chicago. These shows were very good, but I couldn’t help but think they could have been better - specifically if these shows had been general admission (GA) instead of reserved seating, the improved crowd atmosphere would have pushed the band to greater heights (you can’t have a great show without a great auidience). The band must have drawn the same conclusion, because their subsequent US tour in the fall included serveral GA shows.

I traveled to 3 of these GA shows, the first coming on 9/17 at Red Rocks. That day I was in no condition wait in line for front row, but I did manage to sneak my camera in and snag a spot 12 rows back. Both Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem delivered stellar performances, to such a degree that I decided I was going to do whatever it took to be front row for the KC show on 9/28 - which was exactly 2 years to the day after what should have been my first Arcade Fire show.

I rolled up to Starlight Theater on the day of the show and was delighted to find only one other person waiting in line. I killed time by reading Vonnegut, while taking periodic trips to my car to gh. Around 4:20pm, I heard the opening notes of In the Backseat and quickly found the best spot to listen to the soundcheck. They followed In the Backseat with a song I’d never heard before. I phoned the human encyclopedia of Arcade Fire knowledge to ask about this Born on a Train song they were soundchecking over and over. He informed me that it was a Magnetic Fields cover, and that they hadn’t played it in ages. There’s really nothing like being present when your favorite band plays an amazing sound check - especially when it’s an outdoor venue and you can hear everything perfectly.

The gates finally opened around 5:30pm and I snagged a front row spot, Sarah side. I was able to hold a spot for my tall friend from St Louis who’d never seen either band before. LCD Soundsystem’s set was on par with the best opening sets I’ve ever witnessed (Sleater Kinney 7/11/2003 and MMJ 6/3/2006 - both opening for Pearl Jam). LCD frontman/songwriter James Murphy combines a dynamic voice with moving lyrics, captivating music, and an understated charisma that puts his band in very select company. There were many guest appearances by members of Arcade Fire during LCD’s set, highlighted by the brothers Butler singing backing vocals on North American Scum.

Arcade Fire came out blazing as usual with Black Mirror, Keep the Car Running, Laika, No Cars Go, Haiti. Much of the setlist was similar to the stellar Red Rocks show, but this show had that little extra something that set it apart. You really haven’t had the full Arcade Fire experience until you’ve seen RĂ©gine sing In the Backseat - just go watch this if you don’t believe me. Born on a Train came next, with Win explaining that some dude in a coffee shop had requested it that morning…

The remainder of the main set was a flawless barrage of sound: Intervention, (Antichrist Television Blues), The Well and the Lighthouse, Tunnels, Power Out->Rebellion. Win took his typical foray into the crowd (w/ guitar in hand) during the transition from Power Out into Rebellion. I looked down for a second to scribble Rebellion onto my handwritten setlist and suddenly I felt this massive force pushing from behind. I looked up and there was Win standing directly above me singing the opening verse. They capped the show with stunning versions of Crown of Love and Wake Up. This show was on fire from beginning to end - there was a euphoria in the air that didn’t wear off for days. I had been a pretty big fan of this band for a while, but this was the night when I truly found the light.

The National @ Blueberry Hill, 6/11/2007

My first exposure to The National came when my brother gave me Alligator for Christmas in 2005. It was a very good album, but I didn’t truly fall in love with this band until Boxer leaked this past spring - and I started listening to Sad Songs/Alligator/Boxer non-stop for weeks on end. Shortly thereafter I found out they were coming to the Duck Room - a tiny venue in the basement of my favorite restaurant Blueberry Hill - in the heart of the U-City Loop just 5 minutes from my apartment. Since tickets were only $10 and didn’t sell out in advance of the show, I frequently found myself buying more and more extras to give to people I’d recently turned onto the band.

I met an old buddy of mine at the main bar a few hours before the show. It wasn’t long before we noticed lead singer Matt Berninger sitting across the bar, enjoying a pint in relative anonymity. I was too shy to say anything to him then, figuring he just wanted to enjoy his beer and be left to himself.

Flash forward a few hours and we’re downstairs staking out our territory up front. The first opening band, Talkdemonic was a lovely 2-piece outfit with a female violinist and male multi-instrumentalist that I’d pay money to see again. The 2nd opening band (who shall remain nameless) had no business opening for The National, but I endured them anyway since I wasn’t going to vacate my spot.

The National’s set is a bit of a blur in my mind - that’s what happens when you don’t stay sober. I rocked out hard during the loud songs and had to be careful not to smack my head on Bryce Aaron Dessner’s guitar.

They played mostly material from Boxer and Alligator, with a few exceptions like Lucky You and About Today. My girlfriend was happy to get Squalor Victoria and my buddy was stoked that they closed the show with Abel. There was just something magical about that night, seeing a special band up close, practically in my own backyard, surrounded by friends - it was like a dream.

We stuck around after the show and I got to personally thank Matt for coming, and let him know how much I appreciated their work. There’s an undefinable truth about their songs and specifically Matt’s vocals that resonates with their auidience. We all take home a permanent piece of their medium sized american hearts.

Troll 2 w/ cast, Tivoli Theatre, 8/24/2007

A long time ago (circa Fall 2000) on a (now defunct) message board far far away, an old Interweb friend of mine turned me on to a movie called Troll 2. Intruiged after reading the user comments on IMDB, I scored myself a used VHS copy on ebay so I could see first hand what all the fuss was about. What I found was the most brilliantly awful film ever conceived…

Before long, my friend and I were campaigning for other people help us restore Troll 2 to #1 on IMDB’s bottom 100. As part of the campaign, I distributed dubbed VHS copies to a dozen or so people on the forum. One year I even screened it for my extended family on Christmas day.

You can imagine my delight when this past August I saw the words TROLL 2 W/ CAST on the marquee at the Tivoli Theatre. I immediately parked my car so I could investigate further. Apparently there were midnight screenings on Friday and Saturday, but there was no indication what castmembers would be present.

When Friday night rolled around, my brother and I found ourselves in the theater - not quite sure what to expect. Some dude came out and distributed free cake and green popcorn. George Hardy (a.k.a. the dad from the movie) gave a brief intro and informed us that he and Michael Stephenson (a.k.a. Joshua - i.e. the boy who was the main character) would be on hand for a Q&A afterwards.

As soon as the film ended (before the Q&A), there was a teaser trailer for Stephenson’s still in progress documentary (which was actively filming this event) titled Best Worst Movie. We had clearly entered some kind of Internet nerdery vortex and there was no going back.

Here is what I wrote the following morning…

Things learned…

First of all, how did this happen? From what I gather, an Italian movie studio (with a non-english speaking crew and a director most likely on drugs) swooped into Utah, snatched up a bunch of the locals (think Waiting for Guffman auditions), shot the whole thing in a couple of weeks, and got the hell out. I didn’t have the nerve to ask whether in retrospect this production was some kind of ‘Springtime for Hitler’ money laundering scheme.

All of actors who played main characters - including Grandpa Seth - are still alive. Sheriff Gene Freak passed away a few years ago, and everyone else is still around. Connie (the sister) is married with 3 kids. They haven’t been able to track down Margo Prey yet - but her next-door-neighbor told them she believed Margo to be some kind of crazy woman. Writer/Director Claudio Fragasso is still around (in Italy) and they’re talking to him. [Italian accent]”Why do they laugh at all the parts that aren’t supposed to be funny?”[/Italian accent]

On the nerdery front, plenty of people were sporting newly purchased green GOBLIN (on the front) NILBOG (on the back) t-shirts. Some of the questions were cringe-worthy - even for a Troll II cast member at 2:30 in the morning. One guy actually got up and asked if they’d heard of some random Utah micro-brew. After many seconds of silence he quickly apologized and switched seats - at which point Michael Stephenson played it off like he was vaguely familiar with said brew.

The worst by far was the first question of the night - some idiot who just had 3 ’short’ questions, 2 of which had nothing to do with Troll II (’Since I missed your appearance on Inside the Actors Studio, I have to ask what is your favorite curse word?’) while the third was simply ‘What does Troll II mean to you?’ (after they’d each just explained that already in their introductions).

The highlight of the night came when some girl ran up to the front and politely (while laughing uncontrollably) asked George Hardy if he’d do the “You can’t piss on hospitality, I won’t allow it!” line to wake up their sleeping friend. He obliged and it was hilarious.

The cast members were hanging out in a crowded lobby interacting with fans when we left. I’ve witnessed some improbable shit recently, and this is right up there in terms of the ‘holy shit did that just happen’ factor.

The Return of Rick Ankiel, Busch Stadium, 8/9/2007

Once upon a time, Rick Ankiel was a highly touted left-handed pitching phenom who threw the most wicked curve ball I’ve ever seen. During his rookie season he struck out 194 batters in 175 innings and helped lead the Cardinals to their first postseason appearance in 4 years. He subsequently melted down in the playoffs setting the record for most wild pitches thrown in a postseason in just 4 innings of work, and hasn’t been the same pitcher since. I was on hand for his last major league start on 5/10/01 when during his 4th inning warmups he threw 4 straight pitches (over the catchers head) to the screen, and was pulled shortly thereafter.

He went down to the minors and didn’t fare much better. Eventually he ended up finishing out 2001 in the rookie league with Johnson City - where he DHed on his non-pitching days and ironically led the team in HRs. In spring 2005, after several injury setbacks and failed attempts to return to the majors as a pitcher, he declared that he was retiring from pitching and re-inventing himself as an outfielder. Most people (myself included) were skeptical and expressed the desire for the Cardinals to pull the plug on Ankiel. When a knee injury wiped out his entire 2006 season, it looked like the Ankiel train had been derailed for good.

Ankiel bounced back with a strong Sping Training in 2007, and was assigned to AAA Memphis. There was never any question whether he had the power to be a major league slugger, Rick’s problem was that he was a free swinger who whiffed too frequently.

As the season went on, and Ankiel’s HR total escalated, the baseball world started buzzing about his possible return to the majors (the Cardinals were playing dreadful baseball, in large part due to the lack of power in their lineup). As luck would have it, I found myself in Memphis visiting with old college friends and managed to see Ankiel up close. He hit this pitch over the right field wall…

By early August the Cardinals were going nowhere in the NL Central. On August 7th, utility player Scott Spiezio endured some kind of drug related breakdown and subsequently checked himself into rehab. Rick Ankiel was called up to take his place (shrewd PR by the Cardinals). On August 9th, Rick Ankiel returned to the Cardinals, batting 2nd and playing right field. He received a standing ovation before his first plate appearance. In the bottom of the 7th, Ankiel hit a 3-run homer to blow open what had been a tight game and sent the Busch faithful into a frenzy. For one night, all that had gone wrong this season (most notably the death of pitcher Josh Hancock) was forgotten and baseball became fun again.

Ankiel proceded to go on a tear hitting .358 with 9 HR and 29 RBIs in his first 23 games back. During this span the team went 17-9 and found themselves on the doorstep of first place with less than a month to go…and that’s where our story ends

Pearl Jam @ The Vic, 8/2/2007

The origins of my Pearl Jam fandom go back as far as 1992, but I didn’t become a serious fan until 1998 when I first saw them live. That same year I began my tradition of traveling to multiple shows per year. I saw Pearl Jam 48 times between 1998 and 2006, and made several dozen friends along the way - many of whom I knew only from the Internet before meeting in person.

2007 was shaping up to be the year I let go of Pearl Jam. The majority of the PJ shows I saw in 2006 were exceptionally good, but the shows that were merely ‘above average’ didn’t really do much for me. I wasn’t about to go to Lollapaloozza and deal with all that mess, but there was talk of a warm-up show - and I figured if I could land tickets to that, I’d drive up to Chicago at the drop of a hat.

On Tuesday July 24th word spread that Pearl Jam were playing the vintage theatre house known as The Vic on Thursday August 2nd - tickets were available in pairs and only to fanclub members - and went onsale Thursday July 26th via the fanclub website. As expected, the online sale was a nightmare. With the servers overloaded, but tickets still available, fans stayed glued to their keyboards constantly refreshing in hopes of landing that coveted pair. After half an hour or so without any luck, and with reports that some people had scored tickets, I let it be known that I was looking for an extra. After an hour or so of painful frustration, I threw in the towel and went back to work (still periodically checking for tickets, but not every second like before). Long after I’d given up hope, I got a PM from someone asking if I still needed an extra - and just like that I landed the toughest ticket ever.

After seeing Interpol in STL on Wednesday 8/1, I dropped my girlfriend off at our apartment and drove overnight to Chicago in order to secure a choice spot in line. I rotated no doze and 12 oz Cokes every hour to keep myself awake through the drive. I got to the venue at 4:15am and put my name on the list (I was the 18th pair - the first person had been there since 11am the day before the show - in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, PJ fans are psychos). Since the owner of the venue also owned a lot of the residential real estate on the block (and was paranoid about weirdos hanging out all night), they didn’t allow people to wait in front of the venue. A few people stayed behind to maintain the list, which was to be used to recreate the line at 7am.

I staked out a place to stash my car during the daytime hours and unsuccessfully tried to get some sleep. I should mention that it was insanely hot outside - even before the sun came out. Around 6:45am I got up and started looking for people I knew. I found serveral of my touring friends hanging out over at the rendezvous point.

I spent the day hanging out on the sidewalk in between cooling off trips to Wallgreens, Baskin Robbins, and the parking garage (to gh). I got through a few chapters of Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live before my brain lost the ability to process printed sentences. There was persistent harassment from venue security for not keeping the sidewalk clear (the shade was on the forbidden side). I did get a kick out of watching the suits try and avoid contact with the line people all day.

photo by Trish Cassella

As it got closer to showtime, there were more and more ticket vultures hovering around the line trying to land that coveted extra. On one hand I felt bad for them, on the other hand if you looked around at the hundreds of other ticketless people roaming aimlessly, that might be a good indicator that there’s nothing to be had. Most shows go onsale months in advance and send out tickets ahead of time. This show went onsale one week in advance (hardly any time for people to bail), and tickets were distributed in the form of wristbands by PJ fanclub personnel who were checking names off of a list. Simply put, all the tickets were spoken for, and unless you had some sort of in with the band - it was hopeless.

Sometime around 6pm they started letting people inside. I landed the choice spot dead center on the first set of risers with an unobstructed view of the stage. I was surrounded by friends (old and new) on the 2nd tier rail, while half a dozen of my touring comrades managed to get to the very front. Sometimes it does pay off to spend an ungodly amount of time waiting in line.

For the opening set we were treated to a solo performance by PJ frontman Eddie Vedder. Ed opened his set with a moving rendition of Cat Stevens’ Trouble

The remainder of the opening set was hit (Dead Man) and miss (Cubbies Song), but the novelty of the event made up for any lack of musical brilliance.

When Pearl Jam opened the main set with All or None, it was pretty clear that the normal setlist rules were out the window. Ed mentioned at one point that they came up with most of the setlist ideas around 4:30 that afternoon. The set continued with Education and Sad (both of which were Binaural outtakes that really should have been on that album). There was good momentum building into the anthemic In Hiding - which was quite the experience in the intimate setting. Other highlights from the rarity heavy main set included Undone, Off He Goes, and my personal favorite Hard to Imagine.

Highlights of the multiple encores included the epic Inside Job, a well executed cover of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me, the full throttle Comatose, a cover of the Kiss classic Black Diamond (with drummer Matt Cammeron on vocals - the biggest surprise on a night of big surprises), and the Dead Boys’ Sonic Reducer (a longtime favorite of the PJ faithful). Ben Harper joined for Indifference to close out the show.

This performance wasn’t flawless like the 9/28 Arcade Fire show, and it wasn’t quite as intimate as The National gig at Blueberry Hill, but the combination of the intimate setting, the setlist chock full of underappreciated gems, and the overall we’re just here to have a good time with our fans vibe sets this one above the rest. I’ve got my work cut out for me if I’m going to keep my streak alive through 2008…special thanks to everyone who helped make 2007 the best year of my life…(you know who you are)

Pearl Jam - Long Road, 6/16/1995

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

To string you along with the pretense…and pave the way for the coming release

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

At the outset of the current Writers Guild strike, I mentioned to a few friends that this was going to be positive* development in the long run because it would dump a massive block of talent onto the Internet where the Rules of Corporate Television do not apply. After all, a writer can channel his or her creative talents elsewhere, it’s those greedy studio executives who exploit others for a living that can’t afford to see their pool of talent dry up. I figured at some point the studios would give in - especially after it became clear that the public backed the writers. I mean, the Studios’ position of not giving the writers ANY profits from Internet-based ad revenues generated from their work is so absurd at face value even a first grader could understand why the writers needed to strike.

*for those of us who enjoy high quality content

Apparently these corporate douchebags have become so accustomed to having their way with labor that they’ve lost sight of the situation on the ground and picked a fight they really don’t want. OpenLeft’s Matt Stoller writes

…a few weeks ago when I was in LA after spending some time chatting with a screenwriter, he told me there is lots of weird hedge fund money coming in to fund movies, and new attempts to distribute films on the internet. The overall environment for producing great content is becoming more competitive and more difficult for the studios, and I imagine that if they don’t settle with some good solution for the writers, the real danger is that they will simply lose their content business.

Why write as a slave for GE or CBS when you can write and own part of your content going through another distribution outlet?

(emphasis mine)

What we’re seeing now is just the latest battle in the war between Big Media and New Media. Big Media knows their empire is threatened by the Internet, and is doing whatever it can to minimize the damage. Make no mistake about it, unless you are one of them - Big Media is your enemy. These are institutions that…among other things

Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people

In the media wars, music blazes the trail. I encourage everyone to read Demonbaby’s commentary on the decline of the major record labels, penned in the wake of the Oink shutdown. Demonbaby levels the following indictment at the music industry…

They had a chance to move forward, to evolve with technology and address the changing needs of consumers - and they didn’t. Instead, they panicked - they showed their hand as power-hungry dinosaurs, and they started to demonize their own customers, the people whose love of music had given them massive profits for decades. They used their unfair record contracts - the ones that allowed them to own all the music - and went after children, grandparents, single moms, even deceased great grandmothers - alongside many other common people who did nothing more than download some songs and leave them in a shared folder - something that has become the cultural norm to the iPod generation. Joining together in what has been referred to as an illegal cartel and using the RIAA as their attack dogs, the record labels have spent billions of dollars attempting to scare people away from downloading music. And it’s simply not working. The pirating community continues to out-smart and out-innovate the dated methods of the record companies, and CD sales continue to plummet while exchange of digital music on the internet continues to skyrocket. Why? Because freely-available music in large quantities is the new cultural norm, and the industry has given consumers no fair alternative.

While the major labels were launching short-sighted attacks on consumers, countless independent-minded artists have seized the opportunities granted by technology. The result has been nothing short of an Indie Music Renaissance. The most brilliant aspect of the Internet is the ease at which obscure, yet highly compelling content can be distributed to the masses. Good music will eventually find an audience.

Big Media conglomerates are no longer the gatekeepers of content. Instead it’s the decentralized network of blogs and other online media outlets that serve to inform the masses what music they need to check out, what politicians they need to support, and what sports personalities are huge fucking pricks.

TV networks were already in danger of slipping from their perch as the dominant media form. The WGA strike could serve as the catalyst that accelerates the decline of Big Media and fuel the rise of the Internet based ‘indie’ programming. It’s way too early to know how this is going to play out, but so far I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing.

Doves - Snowden

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

U-City, 12/15/2007

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

The National - About Today, 12/14/2005

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Are we going to the same place…if so, can I come?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

After 4+ years with my current girlfriend, I’m not really sure what the future holds for us. That doubt derives more from our own collective sense of realism than from any problems in our relationship. Most people just assume we’ll get married at some point…and for the record I’m totally down with spending the rest of my life with this girl. It’s just that my own code says I shouldn’t get married until I’m ready to have kids, and my girlfriend has stated on numerous occasions that she doesn’t want kids.

So essentially it’s on me whether or not I want to commit to not having kids, because I’ve seen what happens when people who want different things get hitched and I don’t want that to happen to us. I know I don’t want to have kids before I’m 30, but I’m a little weary of writing off the concept altogether. Nevermind that now…

Who knows how we’ll feel in 4 or 5 years…but as of today I can’t imagine being happier with anyone else. I suppose there is always the potential something greater out there…

…but it’s hard enough finding the right match the first time. If you’ve got a good thing going, it’s in your best interest to keep it going. That doesn’t mean surrender all freedom at the expense of the relationship - precisely the opposite is true if you’re doing things properly. Having love in your life you grants you the freedom to be your absolute self without fear of rejection. Don’t throw away happiness in search of perfection…it doesn’t exist.

The flip side of that coin is that you shouldn’t cling to a bad situation out of fear of the unknown. If you feel there’s a better life out there, don’t be afraid to make the necessary changes - even if it brings more pain in the short-term. Things get more complicated when there’s children involved, but I’ve beaten that drum before. Don’t have kids with someone unless you’re comfortable with the idea of enduring 2 decades of parenting with that partner. Once you do procreate, you owe it to your kids to stick it out at least until they’re out on their own in the real world.

It’s perfectly natural for individuals to grow apart over the course of multiple decades. Some couples evolve closer over time and stay together forever, while others aren’t so fortunate. On one hand it sucks to see couples split after 25+ years of marriage, but in the cases when they indeed stuck it out for the kids, it’s only fair that they be allowed to live out their remaining years on their own terms.

I hope my current girlfriend and I are still together in 30 years, but I’d rather split up and be happy than live together in misery. By not getting married, in a way we’re renewing our love on a daily basis. Sure that leaves us vulnerable…but at least we don’t need a piece of paper to hold our relationship together.

Vedder/McCready/Smith - Masters of War, 10/16/1992

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007