Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 - Live Music

I decided I'd jot down, for the sake of posterity, some of my 2012 highlights - particularly with respect to live music.  This was a big year for me: I saw more concerts in 2012 than in any other year (possibly even combined), and most of them were good.  So here's a couple of lists.

Top 10 Concerts

1. June 24 - Punch Brothers at the Sheridan Opera House, Telluride, CO

This was probably the best show I have ever attended.  They were just having fun, and they played for probably two and a half hours.  The covered some of the usuals, like The Strokes, Beck, Radiohead, and Gillian Welch, but also got in a couple by the likes of D'Angelo and Weezer.  To top it all off, there was an Ed Helms appearance.  Oh, and I had a clear balcony view of the stage from about 15 feet away.

2. December 29-31 - Punch Brothers at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY

OK, this is technically three shows, but I didn't want Punch Brothers to dominate this list more than they absolutely have to.  The second night, with Aiofe O'Donovan opening, was my favorite.  The best thing to come out of these shows?  A superb cover version of The Beach Boys' "Surf's Up."

3. November 24 - Brandi Carlile with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

Both nights I attended were good, but the Saturday show sticks out - she brought some young buskers from Pike Place Market on stage to play a song, did Voodoo Chile with Mike McCready, and just like on her Live At Benaroya Hall recording, they did "Turpentine" with the crowd participation.

4. November 25 - Punch Brothers with Milk Carton Kids at The Neptune Theater, Seattle, WA

This was my favorite Punch Brothers show that was part of a normal tour, mostly because they did the last three songs of the encore unplugged, in a sizable theater, and you could still hear them.  You could actually hear the door downstairs swing shut.  Really, I guess it was just my favorite crowd.

5. April 7 - Steven Wilson at House of Blues, Los Angeles, CA

Wilson, one of my favorite musicians, hadn't been to Phoenix since 2005.  So I decided, what the heck, I might as well make the drive out to LA and see him.  It was worth it.  I've never seen a guy switch guitars more times throughout the course of a show, or a song for that matter, than this guy.

6. December 5 - Punch Brothers with Milk Carton Kids at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

I was surprised how different this show was from the Seattle show just a week and a half earlier.  This time, we got some Bach, The Band's "Ophelia," and "Watch 'at Breakdown" with some excellent solos and "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" sung in the middle.

7. October 27 - Calexico with The Dodos at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

It's rare that I'm equally excited about finally seeing an opening band as I am about the headliner.  The Dodos were good, but Calexico still stole the show.  This was a solid evening.

8. August 28 - The Old 97's with Rhett Miller and Those Darlins at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

The show actually started before advertised, so I missed part of Rhett's acoustic set, and I didn't really care for the other opener, but The Old 97's were excellent.  This is just such a good, energetic live band, and one that you probably shouldn't miss next time they come to town.

9. October 6 - Jenny Lewis with Heartless Bastards at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA

I wasn't really familiar with either of these bands before attending this show, but now I like both of them.  Jenny Lewis is actually quite musically diverse, and it wasn't difficult to enjoy her show, even without any familiarity with her music.

10. April 6 - Carolina Chocolate Drops with David Wax Museum at Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

One of the rare occasions where I've seen the opening band steal the show.  CCD were good, but the David Wax Museum was thoroughly entertaining, creative, and energetic.  

Top 10 Concert Moments

To piggyback on the above list, I thought I'd pick out the 10 best memories from concerts this year:

1. Sam Bush plays Up On Cripple Creek and Big Bottom

Sam's headlining Telluride Bluegrass set this year ended with a tribute to Levon Helm - a fifteen minute version of Up On Cripple Creek - followed by a tribute to Spinal Tap, with about five bass players from various bands on stage.  Hard to forget something like that.

2. David Wax Museum joins the audience

I've seen a few bands go unplugged - probably about a half dozen times this year - but these guys took it to a new level.  The three musicians simply wandered around the auditorium while playing a song, sometimes standing on things, trying to make their way through rows of seats, and spreading themselves out to make it a true surround sound experience.

3. Chris Thile plays Bach

I first saw this on December 5 in Phoenix, but he did the same at the Bowery Ballroom as well.  His performance was absolutely amazing, and he's clearly deserving of the MacArthur Fellowship.

4. Punch Brothers play D'Angelo

Punch Brothers got a little soulful, with Noam Pickelny sporting cool shades and Gabe Witcher bringing his most emotive vocals in a display that shows that these guys can play anything, even if they did seem a little too ironic.

5. Brandi Carlile plays Hendrix

At the end of her 2nd Benaroya Hall show, Brandi mentioned that she had a sort of Seattle them going on for this show - she had brought out buskers from Pike Place Market, and now she brought out Seattle's favorite modern guitarist (Mike McCready, Pearl Jam) to pay tribute to Seattle's best historical guitarist (Hendrix, you idiot).  It was a little odd hearing her sing Voodoo Chile, but if you were there, you'd have appreciated it.

6. Ahoy!

Right before playing there version of Josh Ritter's "Another New World" at their free Elks Park show in Telluride, Punch Brothers verbally considered making "Ahoy!" the official Punch Brothers greeting.  Everybody quickly adopted this, and drunk crowds of rowdy men could be heard shouting "Ahoy!" at random times throughout the rest of the weekend.  "Ahoy!" stuck, and after the Bowery run, I think I am all "Ahoy!"ed out. For now.

7. John Paul Jones joins Giant Giant Sand

Raise of hands: who has heard of Giant Giant Sand?  I hadn't before I attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  This Tucson band was playing an early Sunday morning set, when they were joined by John Paul Jones and his mandolin.  I had seen him play bass before, but this was a new one for me.

8. Punch Brothers Unplugged

How do five people in a theater play to hundreds of people without amplification?  Those people have to be very quiet.  And they were amazingly so.

9. Brandi Carlile rocks out with the orchestra

It's always fun hearing rock songs played with a backup orchestra, but this stood out.  "Dreams" is a particularly energetic tune, and a few of those old white guys on trombone were actually getting into it.

10. Glen Hansard plays The Weight

Glen Hansard's show was unexpectedly good in general, but my favorite part was when he paid tribute to Levon Helm by playing The Band's "The Weight."  

There you have it.  It was a good year.  Maybe I'll post a list of *all* the shows I attended, and if I have time, update this with some youtube videos.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years 2012 - Punch Brothers at Bowery Ballroom

In September, Punch Brothers announced they would be playing a three-night stand at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.  I decided, what the heck, it would be a great excuse to go to New York, right?  I really didn't know what to expect, but after seeing them play two entertaining and memorable shows a week and a half apart in Seattle and Phoenix, my hopes were elevated, to say the least.  This is their adopted hometown, and many bands put on their best show in front of their hometown crowd.

Another interesting idea they had for this series was having a different opening act each night.  Jeffrey Lewis, a New York anti-folk musician who incorporates jovial low-budget slideshows into his set, opened the first night.  Aoife O'Donovan, lead singer of Boston string band Crooked Still, and occasional collaborator with Chris Thile and Noam Pickelny, opened the second night.  Finally, Michael Daves, flatpick guitarist who collaborated with Chris Thile, opened night three.

The whole party started Saturday night with their rendition of Josh Ritter's "Another New World," followed by "New York City" (which, amazingly, was played only once all weekend).  They played some of their standard songs ("This Girl," "Flippen," and "Rye Whiskey" would be played all three nights), as well as a few I haven't heard too many times.  "Down Along The Dixie Line," a Gillian Welch song on their new EP Ahoy!,  was played early in the set.  They also played their contribution to the Hunger Games compilation, "Dark Days," for the first time in New York (and also the first time for me).  They would play this again the third night.  Late in the set, guitarist Chris Eldridge sang a Seldom Scene song called "Through The Bottom Of The Glass", and they also treated us to the third movement of "The Blind Leaving The Blind."

The highlight of the set came, however, when they debuted a new cover version of The Beach Boys' "Surf's Up."  This may be the best Beach Boys cover I've heard, so it didn't annoy me that they played it all three nights.  Chris Thile gave credit where it was due after the performance, with the succinct announcement, "Brian F*@king Wilson!"

The encore started the same way it did in Phoenix: with Chris Thile playing Bach's Sonata #1 in G Minor on solo mandolin.  Go find this on youtube.  It will blow you away.  After an instrumental I couldn't identify, the band was joined on stage by Jeffrey Lewis for a bluegrass version of his song "Creeping Brain," complete with low budget slideshow.

Sunday night started with "Don't Get Married Without Me" and their version of Welch's "Wayside (Back In Time)."  It might be interesting to note that the opening act, Aiofe O'Donovan, and her boyfriend were standing right next to me against the side wall.  She disappeared during 2nd performance of the third movement of "The Blind Leaving The Blind" in as many nights, and that was because she would join the band on stage for "Here And Heaven" from the Goat Rodeo Sessions album and Punch Brothers' own "Soon Or Never" (I feel like they never play these songs without her).  They also played Radiohead's "2+2=5" and The Band's "Ophelia" and a rare performance of "The Woman And The Bell."

The main set ended with "Surf's Up," this time with a segue into their instrumental romp "Watch 'at Breakdown," which seems to have longer and longer solos each time they play it (and sometimes another song in the middle - in Phoenix it was "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas").

Chris Thile mentioned several times that they love playing in New York - at one point Sunday he said that his favorite people to play in front of are New Yorkers and, after a pause, "people who travel to New York for the holidays."  I'm glad he made a shout out for those of us who aren't New Yorkers.

The encore, which would end up being my favorite stretch of the whole weekend, started with Chris Thile and Aiofe O'Donovan's spur-of-the-moment Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch cover band playing "The Way It Will Be" (I knew there was a reason MOG kept playing that song whenever I'm using the radio feature).  They also played a John Hartford song called "Living In The Mississippi Valley" (with Chris Eldridge singing), followed by Beck's "Sexx Laws," with a segue into the traditional tune "Train On An Island."

The third night began with an old blues song called "Boll Weevil," which led into "Rye Whiskey."  "Rye Whiskey" is that one song that they play at every show - and it really is a good choice for a staple song.  It's fun every time.

They also played a song they described as a medley that was cut from their album Punch; I don't know what it was called, but I feel like I may have heard them play it once before.  They also worked in their version of The Strokes' "Reptilia," and Rob Moose joined them on stage for the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto.

Of course, the centerpiece of this set came at about 11:50PM - they began playing "Surf's Up," and again included the segue into "Watch 'at Breakdown."  Throughout the show, Noam Pickelny had been announcing the number of seconds left until midnight, and during Thile's mandolin solo, Noam, did this with increasing frequency... "67"... "38"... "18!"... "14!"... The crowd, of course, joined in for the final countdown from 10 to 1 (I think they were actually off by about 10 seconds), after which the band began playing and singing "Auld Lang Syne," after which they finished "Watch 'at Breakdown."

When the band came out on stage for the encore, a bunch of people shouted "Missy", after which Thile said, "Why not?"  He said they were going to play a holiday song, but would play the request instead.  I like "Missy," but this was pretty disappointing, as I estimated the holiday song he was referring to was "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."  Would've love to hear that one.  They then played a raucous "Icarus Smicarus" from the Ahoy! EP, after which they were joined by Michael Daves for a whole bunch of bluegrass songs I had a hard time identifying.  Eldridge sang one more, "Don't Give Your Heart To A Rambler" by Jimmy Martin, and they played a couple more bluegrass songs.

It really was a great stretch of shows - and I think it was worth going to each one.  This weekend still doesn't quite compare to their Nightgrass show in Telluride, though.  These shows were less intimate, and possibly directed at a different type of audience.  One thing that did impress me here is that the crowd really did know the songs - and not just the new ones, but the ones from the previous record as well.  At any rate, it was a great way to spend the weekend; it might be my most memorable New Years ever.

Saturday, December 29Sunday, December 30Monday, December 31
Another New World (Josh Ritter)
New York City
Heart In A Cage (The Strokes)
Song For A Young Queen (Chris Thile)
Down Along The Dixie Line (Gillian Welch)
This Girl
Dark Days
New Chance Blues (Norman Blake)
Don't Need No
Surf's Up (Beach Boys)
Flippen (Väsen)
Through The Bottom Of The Glass (Seldom Scene) 1
The Blind Leaving The Blind Mvt 3
Rye Whiskey

Sonata #1 in G Minor (Bach) 2
Creeping Brain (Jeffrey Lewis) 3
Patchwork Girlfriend
Moonshiner (traditional) 4
Don't Get Married Without Me
Wayside (Back In Time) (Gillian Welch)
You Are
Flippen (Väsen)
Ophelia (The Band)
The Blind Leaving The Blind Mvt 3
Here And Heaven (Ma, Duncan, Meyer, Thile) 5
Soon Or Never 5
2+2=5 (Radiohead)
This Girl
The Woman And The Bell
Rye Whiskey
Surf's Up (Beach Boys) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown

The Way It Will Be (Welch/Rawlings) 4 8
Living In The Mississippi Valley (John Hartford) 1 5
Sexx Laws (Beck) ->
Train On An Island (traditional)
Boll Weevil ->
Rye Whiskey
Who's Feeling Young Now?
(punch outtake)
Patchwork Girlfriend
Dark Days ->
The Beekeeper
Reptilia (The Strokes)
Next To The Trash
Movement And Location
Surf's Up (Beach Boys) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown ->
Auld Lang Syne (traditional) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown
Hundred Dollars
No Concern Of Yours
Brandenburg Concerto Mvt 3 (Bach) 6
This Girl
Flippen (Väsen)
Brakeman's Blues (Bill Monroe)

Icarus Smicarus
Rabbit In The Log (Bill Monroe) 7
Billy In The Lowground (?) (traditional) 7
Cry, Cry Darling (Bill Monroe) 7
? 7
Don't Give Your Heart To A Rambler (Jimmy Martin) 1 7
? 7
? 7
? 7

Setlist notes:
1 Chris Eldridge on vocals
2 Chris Thile solo
3 with Jeffrey Lewis
4 unplugged
5 with Aiofe O'Donovan
6 with Rob Moose
7 with Michael Daves
8 Chris Thile and Aiofe O'Donovan, both on guitar

Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 20 Records of 2012

OK, it's a week or so early, but since there's nothing on my radar the next couple weeks, I figured I might as well go ahead and list my top 20 albums of the year.

(I included videos of songs from all the albums that didn't make my first half list.)


1. Lost in the Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

The tone of this album is just amazing, and the music is stunningly beautiful.  Written as a tribute to Lost In The Trees mastermind Ari Picker's mother, this album feels heavy but not depressed.  This is a band that deserves far more attention than it gets.

2. Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?

When you write a groundbreaking album, what do you do next?  Most bands struggle with that challenge, because they basically try to do the same thing again (Mumford & Sons...cough).  Punch Brothers went in a completely different direction, and made an album far more accessible than the last, yet just as masterfully constructed.

3. Anathema - Weather Systems

This band used to be a doom metal band back in the 90s, but now there's really nothing about it.  It's more art rock than anything else, and there are some amazing stretches here.  The whole thing is solid, and includes some of the most memorable transitions of any album I've heard.  This thing just flows.

4. Brandi Carlile - Bear Creek

I used to think Brandi Carlile was OK.  I enjoyed listening to her stuff, but not to the point where this album was anywhere on my radar.  I went ahead and downloaded it, and I was knocked off my feet by this one.  Here we have Carlile and the Hanseroth twins attempting what is basically roots music, and they pull it off very well.

5. Rhett Miller - The Dreamer

Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller has released a few solo albums.  This one is very good.  It's a little more poppy and less raucous than his Old 97's material, and I think that's why I like it - there's a reason for him to have a solo project.  I like the Old 97's better probably, but this is a completely different style of Americana.

6. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Here

The Zeros' debut album was quite popular.  I thought it was decent, but not mindblowing.  This one is much better, with a strong revival feel throughout.  This one works much better as a folk/roots album.

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Psychedelic Pill

It's the first album of new material from the NY&CH configuration since Greendale ten years ago.  Some say it's the best since Ragged Glory.  Some even say it's the best since Rust Never Sleeps.  Either way, it's good.  And it might be the longest record Neil has made, as well.

8. Ben Sollee - Half Made Man

I saw Ben at Telluride Bluegrass in 2010, and I thought he was talented but boring.  Then a few weeks ago, I listened to Dear Companion, and for some reason, I was really, really digging it.  And then I heard his new record, and was actually a little disappointed that it wasn't as mellow.  But after repeated listens, I really like it.  There are some real gems here.

9. Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Bad Moon Ritual / The Magic Door

Yeah, I know this is two albums, but I'm putting them together because to me, they're both solid, but neither stands out.  It's like The Black Crowes became a jam band.

10. David Wax Museum - Knock Knock Get Up

This duo is so unknown that they have been self-releasing their records; this one was funded with Kickstarter.  But you know what?  It's really good.  This is just fun music, and David Wax has found a niche (indie folk with traditional Mexican influence) that really works.

11. Calexico - Algiers

This is definitely not the most well-received Calexico album, but I had the advantage of just discovering these guys from Tucson, so I didn't have any expectations whatsoever.  And on its own, it's a good album.

12. The Lumineers - The Lumineers

These guys seem to be this year's new folk sensation, and it's very fitting.  They're like a better The Head And The Heart.

13. Darrell Scott - Long Ride Home

Darrell Scott is one of my favorite songwriters.  This record is more country than his previous album, but it still has soul, which is something missing from mainstream country.

14. Gary Clark, Jr. - Blak and Blu

There is some really awesome blues guitar here.  There is also some pretty good R&B spread around.  He's like a much more talented, better singing, and more diverse Black Keys.

15. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

Another bit hit this year.  I like it, but it tends to get a little stale with prolonged listening.  All of the songs are enjoyable, though, but they could stand to be a little less derivative.  It will be interesting to see which direction they go with their sophomore record.

16. Patterson Hood - Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance

I haven't listened to Drive By Truckers much, but I checked this record by Truckers member Patterson Hood out on MOG, and it didn't strike me at first as being that great, but by the end, I was really feeling it.

17. Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio - Across The Imaginary Divide

Being a jazz record, this one is hard to listen to when you're in the car, but the musicianship here is amazing.  And the banjo is certainly a novel instrument for a jazz quartet.

18. Justin Townes Earle - Nothing Is Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

Not as good as some of his previous work, but there are enough keepers here to make it worthwhile.  I like that he's trying a new musical style.

19. Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames - New Multitudes

Initially, this was one of my least favorite Jay Farrar projects.  It stands up well with time, however.  Not as good as Son Volt or the Ben Gibbard collaboration, but it's a solid tribute to Woody Guthrie.

20. Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere

I initially had this much higher, but it gets a little boring after awhile.  There are still some really good songs, though.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My best photos of 2012

It's that time of year when you start to make lists.  Music lists are popular, and I intend to make a few.  Movie lists are popular, too.  This list, however, is one I was working on today while editing some random photos: my favorite photos I've taken in 2012.

I have taken a lot of photos this year.  And I mean a lot.  Probably well over a thousand.  These have been on hikes, while Jeeping, and trips to various cities around the US.  Sometimes, with my relatively low-budget camera, I do a poor job capturing a memory.  But I like these ones (well, I like all of them, but these ones stand out).

In chronological order:

Sunrise at West Boulder Saddle
Date Taken: January 2
Location: West Boulder Saddle, near Peralta Trail here in Arizona.
Why I like it: Mostly I like the radiance of the sun.  This photo is SOOC, and I just love how warm the colors are.  I also feel like I included just the right amount of bush in the right half of the photo.

Cholla Forest in the Superstition Wilderness
Date Taken: January 7
Location: Dutchman's Trail a mile or so north of Miner's Needle, near Peralta Trailhead, here in AZ.
Why I like it: For a place so forbidding, this place just felt serene. This is one that is probably hard to appreciate if you weren't there.

Enshrouded by Clouds
Date Taken: January 16
Location: On the Superstition ridgeline, right above Hieroglyphics Canyon.
Why I like it: I originally intended to go hiking farther east, but I saw that the Superstitions were completely enshrouded in clouds.  So I decided to hike up into them.  It was an eerie feeling, but my favorite parts where when I was in a break in the clouds, and could get a shot like this.

Devil's Chasm
Date Taken: March 17
Location: Devil's Chasm, in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, northeast of Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.
Why I like it: I just love the U shape of this canyon.  It was just a very unique place, and a remote one that relatively few people have visited.

Four Peaks
Date Taken: May 26
Location: Atop Browns Peak, northeast of Mesa, AZ.
Why I like it: I lived most of my life in the shadow of this mountain, and it took me until this year to finally hike to the top.  I had to endure two bee stings, but for a view like this, it's worth it.

Havasu Creek
Date Taken: June 9
Location: Havasu Creek, a couple miles below Mooney Falls
Why I like it: Ben is at one with the creek.  The colors and perspective are perfect.  I feel at ease just looking at this picture.

Delicate Arch side view
Date Taken: June 17
Location: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: Everybody takes pictures of Delicate Arch from the north.  From the side, it only looks like an arch because of its shadow.  The shadow makes this picture.

Fawn at Dead Horse Point
Date Taken: June 18
Location: Dead Horse Point State Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: If you don't like this photo, you have no soul.  I was wandering around Dead Horse Point, and ran across a deer with two fawns.  One of them left before this photo, but I was able to make a pretty close approach and snap this photo.  The mother didn't seem to mind my presence at all; I got probably 10 feet away at one point.

Devil's Garden
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Arches National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: I took a lot of pictures I like in Arches.  This place was my favorite.  While hiking to Double O Arch and back, I climbed up this rock fin behind Navajo Arch.  The couple in the picture followed me up there.  The view was incredible, and the best I have found anywhere in the park.  I also like the La Sals in the background, and that is Landscape Arch in the bottom left corner.

Corona Arch
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Corona Arch, west of Moab, UT
Why I like it: I snapped about a dozen photos of this giant arch, but this one turned out the best.  The sun is behind the arch itself, and I just love how its radiance dominates the background.  This is one of my favorite photos ever.

Canyonlands Sunset
Date Taken: June 19
Location: Grandview Point, Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, UT
Why I like it: Another successful sunset picture.  I love the triangle shape the light makes, I think because of that little notch on the horizon.

Bored Puppies
Date Taken: June 21, 22, or 23
Location: Telluride, CO
Why I like it: The dogs, duh!

Sun Setting in Chicago
Date Taken: August 16
Location: Chicago, IL
Why I like it: That building on the left.  With the sun coming in at an angle, the lighting looked amazing.

Home Run
Date Taken: August 24
Location: AT&T Park, San Francisco, CA
Why I like it: Because it went over the fence.  And because it looks like the batter's right ankle should have snapped in two.

The Narrows From Angel's Landing
Date Taken: September 2
Location: Angels Landing, Zion National Park, UT
Why I like it: Rock layers and the windy canyon.  And the clouds provided some nice shadows.

Near-Death Experience
Date Taken: September 2
Location: Angels Landing, Zion National Park, UT
Why I like it: Because he didn't fall off.  Almost did, though.

Ore House
Date Taken: September 7
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: Normally, I get terrible night shots.  But this one turned out pretty good.

Fall Colors
Date Taken: September 8
Location: West of Lake City, CO
Why I like it: Most of the trees in this area are coniferous, with the exception of aspens.  And this thicket of aspens was great.

Ouray, CO
Date Taken: September 8
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: The sun shining on these mountains with a cloudy backdrop made these mountains seem that much more majestic.

Sunset on Clouds
Date Taken: September 8
Location: Ouray, CO
Why I like it: I like taking pictures of red/orange clouds, and this is the best I've done.

Wet Rose
Date Taken: September 21
Location: Washington Park Rose Garden, Portland, OR
Why I like it: The dew droplets on the rose, and the unfocused background.  If you didn't know any better, you might think this was taken with an expensive camera.

San Francisco Peaks
Date Taken: October 13
Location: Jerome, AZ
Why I like it: Hard to get a good picture of the peaks from that far away. I love the early-season snow on the mountains.

Date Taken: November 23
Location: Seattle, WA
Why I like it: The sashimi was decent, but the lighting was excellent.

True Love
Date Taken: November 24
Location: Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA
Why I like it: My brother and his wife-to-be in the most yellow elevator ever.

Space Needle
Date Taken: November 24
Location: Seattle Center, Seattle, WA
Why I like it: This is about ten feet from where that picture that sometimes shows up on my desktop background was taken.  I like mine more, though, because this one has clouds reflecting off of the museum.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Halfway Through 2012...

We're over half way through the year... I figured I'd rank all the new albums I've heard so far.

1. Lost In The Trees - A Church That Fits Our Needs

Emotional.  Rich.  Textured.  Atmospheric.  It's hard to find enough words to describe how beautiful this album is.  It's a perfect tribute to Ari Picker's late mother.  It's simultaneously sad and uplifting.  Rarely do you find an album with such a coherent bond between the lyrics and the music.  Here, Picker proves he's an expert in tone.

2. Punch Brothers - Who's Feeling Young Now?

I initially met this album with trepidation, since their previous album is one of my favorites, and I wasn't too keen on the first track, which was released online a few weeks before the full album.  But here they've proven that they can make music that is more accessible, but just as interesting... While staying true to their acoustic instruments.  

3. Anathema - Weather Systems

This is excellent prog rock.  It takes you through a range of emotions, it is intricately constructed (listen to the layered vocals on "The Gathering of the Clouds" in surround sound, and prepare to be blown away), and it just gets better with each listen.

4. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Here

I'm probably in the minority, but I like this better than their previous record.  It doesn't have a hit song, but it does a great job capturing a traditional revival feel.

5. Great Lake Swimmers - New Wild Everywhere

Nice sincere folk rock.  All of the songs are pretty good, and there are some nice, catchy melodies here.

6. Of Monsters And Men - My Head Is An Animal

This is a fun listen.  Lots of bombast; probably closer to the first Edward Sharpe album than the new Edward Sharpe album is.  

7. Darrell Scott - Long Ride Home

Darrell is one of my favorite songwriters, and here we see him making back porch country music.  Simple, honest, and genuine.

8. The Tallest Man On Earth - There's No Leaving Here

I was never the biggest fan of this guy, but he does have an interesting Dylan-esque quality, and I like the acoustic guitar.

9. Bela Fleck & The Marcus Roberts Trio - Across The Imaginary Divide

Saw these guys at Telluride Bluegrass, and was impressed.  It's like a very tight jazz ensemble with a banjo.

10. Leftover Salmon - Aquatic Hitchhiker

I haven't been able to fully digest this one yet, but there are some quality cuts here.

Other albums I like that didn't make my top 10 yet:
Old Crow Medicine Show - Carry Me Back
Farrar, Johnson, Parker, Yames - New Multitudes
Justin Townes Earle - Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Leaving Eden
Trampled By Turtles - Stars And Satellites
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer
Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself

Saturday, June 30, 2012

2012 Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Every June, I attend the annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, Colorado.  This was my third year, and I have to say, it was the best yet.  This year I flew solo, rented a place in town, and enjoyed the dry weather and fluffy clouds wafting through the sky.

It started with a three day trip to Moab, UT, after which I made a Wednesday afternoon arrival in Telluride, just in time to enjoy the free FirstGrass show in Mountain Village.  This year, Della Mae opened it up with Peter Rowan as a guest, and delighted the audience with some first-rate upbeat all-girl tradgrass.  They were followed by the first of many (by my count, four) official Greensky Bluegrass appearances.  They played a good set, although, admittedly, my head was not really in it.

Later on in the evening, Yonder Mountain String Band played their annual kickoff party at the conference center.  I made it to my first one last year, but found this one to be far more entertaining.  They were just on this year... And they had Bela Fleck sit in during the first set, and Sam Bush during the second.  Someone later told me that Jeff Austin had "cleaned up" in the past year--either that is unfair speculation, or a reasonable explanation for a more exciting Yonder.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Things officially got started with an hour-long gapless improv by Chris Thile and Bela Fleck, under the name of "Thelma and Louise."  This performance was not for everybody, as it was abstract and improvisational in nature, and most improvisations tend to have sections that miss the mark.  I, personally, was impressed by the performance, even though I was a little drowsy during stretches (which, perhaps, could've added to the enjoyment).

I skipped Della Mae in order to catch up on sleep, and returned prior to Dan Mangan's set.  Mangan was a hit for me; I enjoyed his use of feedback and noise, and his philosophical ramblings, although the general consensus seems to be that he was too loud for a bluegrass festival.  Too each his own.

Mangan was followed by Greensky Bluegrass's 2nd official performance, which I skipped in order to see Punch Brothers at the free Elks Park stage.  This is a show that kicked off one of the most pervasive storylines of this year's festival, not just because of their Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and Levon Helm tributes, but because, while explaining the seafaring nature of Josh Ritter's "Another New World," they proposed "Ahoy!" as the official Punch Brothers Telluride salutation.  Thus, "Ahoy!" became the most commonly heard word this year, typically shouted in unison by large groups of inebriated men.  This set was mostly covers; besides the Ritter song, they played The Car's "Just What I Needed," The Strokes' "Heart In A Cage," The White Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground," and, most memorably, The Band's "Ophelia." Ophelia was the first of four Helm tributes of which I am aware.

After Punch Brothers' Happy Hour, I returned in order to see Laura Marling take the stage 15 minutes late, and perform a slightly unenthusiastic set that was, nonetheless, enjoyable.  I guess I just had really high expectations for this set, after seeing her impress while opening for Andrew Bird a few months ago.

I didn't stay long into John Prine's set (which sounded good from the first few songs) in order to return my chair to the hotel in preparation for a long night, which began with Alison Krauss and Union Station.  As expected, I was highly impressed by their talent, but a little bored with their pop structures.  I like the songs sung by Dan Tyminski, who introduced himself as "the singing voice of George Clooney," because they tend to be closer to bluegrass than pop.

I finished the evening with the Elephant Revival show at the Sheridan Opera House.  I saw them play in Phoenix in January, and they were just as impressive, if not more so, in Telluride.

This was a very strong opening day, and the highlight was Punch Brothers at Elks Park.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday started off with a laid back set from Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall.  I appreciate their skill, but it's difficult to watch them on the main stage.  It would be easier to appreciate their technical abilities in a more intimate Elks Park workshop.  Needless to say, I fell asleep.

Seryn fortunately got things moving on Friday around lunch time.  This band, from Denton, TX, is almost completely unknown, they don't play bluegrass, but they use banjos sometimes, so I guess it "counts."  Bluegrass or not, they were impressive, and despite the lead singer's voice sounding a little too much like Eddie Vedder's, I like this band.

The always-entertaining Head For The Hills were next, but I skipped them in order to see Joy Kills Sorrow at Elks Park.  I figured I would see Head For The Hills later that night anyways, and JKS was one of the bands I was most looking forward to... So I couldn't wait for their Sunday morning set.  I was not disappointed with my decision.

I went back to the main stage for O'Brien Party of Seven and Bela Fleck & The Marcus Roberts Trio.  The first was enjoyable, at least during the part during which I managed to stay awake.  Bela Fleck & The Marcus Roberts Trio was one of the more unique shows of the weekend, as Bela projects are wont to be.  This was straight up jazz music, and it was tight.  I really enjoyed this show; it was one of my favorites of the weekend.

I skipped Del McCoury in order to rest up for John Fogerty, and return my stuff to the hotel.  There was some speculation as to how much of Fogerty's set would be CCR, and how much would be his solo/country set; if you were hoping for mostly CCR, you would not have been disappointed.  This was the set that was talked about for the rest of the weekend.

Rather than see Leftover Salmon, I saw Head For The Hills at the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon.  The first half was totally enjoyable, on account of everybody still being at Leftover Salmon, but once the Salmon crowd started showing up, it started becoming overcrowded.  The band was spectacular, however.

Friday, again, was solid, and the highlight of the day was, far and away, John Fogerty.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday was all about Elks Park.  While at the main stage the band contest was going on, and Run Boy Run was following up as last year's winners, there was an instrument building Q&A with the makers of Shanti Guitars and San Juan Mandolins, featuring some "instrument demonstrations" (i.e., playing) by two of the guys in Head For The Hills.  If nothing else, I learned how difficult and interesting the art of luthiery can be.

This was followed up by a "workshop" entitled Bela Fleck & Edgar Meyer: How To Play Badly Without Anybody Noticing.  This was, of course, tongue-in-cheek, and they did not play badly at all, but joked about some techniques to hide mistakes (their favorite was pretending to tune the instrument, so the audience thinks they just went out of tune).  They noticed Chris Thile on the side, and invited him to join... He ran and grabbed his mandolin, and half the show was Fleck/Meyer/Thile.  The Bela Fleck Elks Park performance seems to always be a highlight of the festival: it wasn't as memorable this year as it was last year, but it was still very impressive.

Following Fleck/Meyer, I went to the main stage for The Devil Makes Three, and witnessed some upbeat, energetic bluegrass/folk/whatever-they-call-what-they-do.  These guys are fun, and they have an old time style all their own.

Rather than hang out for Jerry Douglas' set, I opted for some lunch, followed by a trip to Elks Park for the Woody Guthrie tribute.  This involved Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon), Tim O'Brien (Tim O'Brien), Emma Beaton (Joy Kills Sorrow), Peter Rowan (Peter Rowan), and some other lady whose identity I'm unsure of.  By now, the air was rather smoky due to the fire burning down by Mancos, which was so pervasive that Vince Herman even referred to it in an impromptu verse of Woody's "This Land Is Your Land" (although he argued that the smoke was related to the fact that it was about 4:20 on the clock).  The Guthrie tribute was entertaining, enlightening, and probably more political than what we're used to at the festival.

Seryn was next at Elks Park.  Rather than witness the Yonder Mountain String Band marshmallow war, I decided to watch the little-known band play an intimate set and chat about polyrhythms, unusual use of bows, etc.

Next, it was dinner/sleep time (I skipped k.d. lang), and back over to the main stage for the annual Sam Bush Band set.  I've always enjoyed Sam's set, but this one was even better.  Midway through, he started a song with Jerry Douglas, during which the rest of the band came out armed with electric guitars, and proceeded to rock the crowd's socks off for about ten minutes.  A guy standing near me remarked that they should've ended with this, as there was no way to possibly top this.  One thing I've learned is you never assume Sam Bush can't top himself; he did when he brought out Douglas, Bela Fleck, John Cowan, Jeff Austin, and Dave Johnston for a rousing, 16-minute rendition of The Band's "Up On Cripple Creek" (the second Helm tribute for those who are counting).  He then brought out all the bass players backstage for an encore performance of Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom."  Only in Sam Bush's Telluride set can you see six bass players playing Spinal Tap at a bluegrass festival.

The final main stage set of the night was Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, who delighted me with their piano-based jambandery.  Bruce was joined by Thile and Fleck, but I left too early too see Sam Bush's appearance.

The reason I left Bruce early was to catch The Devil Makes Three play Fly Me To The Moon Saloon.  This was my biggest mistake of the festival; the show was more crowded than Head For The Hills the previous night, it was hot in there, I couldn't see the band, and they apparently just played basically the same set they played on the main stage.  I left by 1AM.

The highlight of the day was easily Sam Bush Band.  His performance included some of my all-time favorite Telluride Bluegrass moments (though my TBF career only spans three years).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday was a main stage day for me.  It started with John Cowan Band Gospel Hour, which was entertaining, though I didn't really know any of his songs.  I do know his voice from New Grass Revival, so it wasn't completely unfamiliar.

Joy Kills Sorrow was next.  It was similar to their Friday Elks Park set, just with less intimate chat and more music.  The audience seemed to like them.

I watched the beginning of Peter Rowan's Big Twang Theory, but didn't stick around long, as I wanted to grab some lunch and catch Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass at Elks Park (their fourth official performance of the festival).  Their music and banter was enjoyable.

Next was Brett Dennen at the main stage; I was unsure of how I'd like his folk-pop stylings, but I actually found it enjoyable and refreshing.  Perhaps unfortunately, the most memorable part of his set occurred when Marshmallow War Part II broke out near the end.  It was so out-of-control that after the set, a stern warning was issue to the audience to refrain from throwing projectiles on stage.

Punch Brothers were next, and played their most typical show of the festival, with more songs from their new album than at any of their other performances.  This, of course, came with plentiful greetings of "Ahoy!" from the crowd, and Thile even changed the lyrics in "Rye Whiskey" to "A-hoy!" instead of "Oh Boy!" as promised.  The most interesting part of the set came when Rob Moose joined them onstage for a performance of the third movement of Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto."

Glen Hansard took the headlining spot Sunday, and floored me with his emotive voice and more-energetic-than-expected band.  He played a couple of Once/Swell Season tracks ("Leave" and "When Your Mind's Made Up"), several songs from his solo work, and, memorably, The Band's "The Weight" (the third Helm tribute of the weekend).  Hansard impressed.

The Telluride House Band closed the night, but I skipped their set in order to guarantee a balcony seat at the Punch Brothers nightgrass show at the Sheridan Opera House.  Unfortunately, I missed the house band play "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down:"

The Punch Brothers nightgrass show was excellent: they played Weezer, The Strokes, Radiohead, some traditional bluegrass, some of their own music, some wicked solos, and even some R&B (with Noam Pickelny sporting some cool shades).  They were just having fun all night, and they were joined onstage by Bryan Sutton, Mike Witcher (brother of Gabe Witcher), some girl they found to sing the female vocal part in "Here Or Heaven," and even Ed Helms and one of his Lonesome Trio bandmates.

The highlight of the day was, as expected, Punch Brothers.

Overall, this was my favorite Telluride Bluegrass Festival.  The music was solid all around, I met a lot of interesting people, and just had an all around good, carefree time.  I already can't wait for the 40th anniversary next year.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anathema - Weather Systems

Release Date: April 16, 2012
Label: Kscope

Let me tell you about Anathema.  They are a British prog rock band that started off playing doom metal.  Their past alone is probably enough to turn off most prospective listeners ("you want me to check out a doom metal band???), and their present is enough to turn off most doom metal fans, so they are in an interesting position, as far as niche is concerned.

I first heard Anathema several years ago, when I was in my prog metal phase.  The record I heard was A Natural Disaster, which surprised me with its overall mellowness and delicacy.  There really isn't anything metal about Anathema anymore.  I more recently heard We're Here Because We're Here, which I wasn't totally impressed with, despite its relative popularity.  Nevertheless, when I saw that Weather Systems was due, I went ahead and ordered the vinyl.

After a few listens, I was floored.  This might be even better than A Natural Disaster.  The record starts off with a split track, "Untouchables," with a hard first half and a more delicate second half.  This is followed by another pair of songs that flow into each other, "The Gathering of the Clouds," and "Lightning Song."  "Gathering" is a fine specimen of layered vocals and effective buildup, and by the time it climaxes and segues into "Lightning Song," it is difficult to resist the urge to start pumping your fists.

Another highlight is "The Storm Before the Calm," which features one of my favorite prog tropes: tearing down the song after a few verses, and building it back up again with more grandeur than before.

Really, this whole record is solid.  So solid that I decided to purchase the surround sound edition, which I had the chance to spin for the first time today.  The sound is more crisp, with more separation between the concrete musical instruments and more abstract atmospheric elements.  The layered vocal parts especially shine; in "The Gathering of the Clouds," I heard vocal lines I hadn't heard even after a dozen or so listens.

If you're a prog rock or art rock fan, check this out.  If you're not... Well, there still might be cuts you really like.  This music is really difficult to categorize.