Saturday, October 27, 2007

The look of embarrassment, the taste of failure

What the fuck is this???

They were supposed to be pancakes. Noticing that I happened to have all the ingredients for pancakes sitting around doing nothing particularly useful this morning, and since I was eager to find an excuse to drag my feet on running my errands today, I decided to try something different. Specifically, vegan pancakes was what I was going for. No eggs, no milk, just the following that I found on some Australian vegan forum, which I will not link to due to the shameful photographic evidence above:

2½ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

whisk together:
1 cup soymilk
1½ cup water
¼ cup oil

"Tip wet ing. into dry ones. Fold together until only just combined. The batter should be quite lumpy, which makes the pancakes light. If you beat the batter smooth, the pancakes will be tough."

I cut the recipe in half, and even at that, the batter was far too watery. Rather than add more flour, I decided to just see what would happen when I poured it into my frying pan. First "cake" stuck to my pan, which was the pan's fault. It tends to like its contents far too much to let them go, no matter what the temperature. Second one did the same, and the watery mess wasn't helping.

Finally, I became frustrated enough to pour all the rest of the batter into the pan and just let it cook as one big cake. This actually worked much better. Problem was, it never did gain that "cakey" consistency. Rather, it ended up somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between cake and gel. It actually tasted alright, but pancakes they were not.

Ironically, these egg-less, vegan pancakes came out far heavier than any real pancake I've ever had, and they're sitting in my stomach like grease-drenched Dunkin' Donuts chased with a 32-ounce ice cream shake.

Never again!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fun with boxes

Pre-adulthood, I used to see features in magazines, newspapers, even ad inserts on CD box sets that appear around the holiday shopping season and read them with greater interest than the front page news. Oh, the simple joys of being young and curious!

Now, I get to write some of those little blurbs myself. Bullz Eye posted their "Hope You Enjoy My New Box Set" feature last week, which features eight entries by yours truly. I could have easily made all eight of those entries dedicated to the series of eight Miles Davis "complete" sets that Columbia/Legacy has been pumping out over the past decade. However, in the interest of variety, there's also some Dylan, Yes, Ornette, and others represented. The whole damn thing is really fun to read. Check it out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bob Dylan & Victoria's Secret: a 40-year-old decision

This post is dedicated to Isorski, whose review of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews prompted me to buy the book and subsequently make this discovery on page 75:

Dylan was interviewed at a live press conference on KQED-TV, San Francisco, on December 3, 1965, in advance of five Bay Area concerts that month. One question he was asked, in the face of recent 'sell-out' accusations since abandoning acoustic folk music in favor of electric rock n' roll:

"If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?"

Dylan's curt answer:

"Ladies garments."

Fast forward to 2006:

I guess he wasn't putting us on back then, was he?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New reviews at Bullz Eye and other crap

Got three new ones since last time:

Posted on Friday, we have The Very Best of Diana Krall. I've been diggin' her for ten years now... my, how time flies! Great singer, great pianist, deserves a better overview than this one.

Diana Krall "The Very Best Of Diana Krall" album cover

Also on Friday, we have my review of Chris Robley's second solo album, The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love. This one will end up in my year-end top ten, for sure. I do actually have to submit one of those top ten lists to Bullz Eye soon, so keep a lookout for that as well.

Chris Robley "The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love" album cover

And finally, from last week, there's PJ Harvey's White Chalk. One word to describe this one: spooky. If you don't go out for Halloween, play White Chalk as you're falling asleep and see if that doesn't get you in the mood.

PJ Harvey "White Chalk" album cover

As for the aforementioned "other crap," I woke up this morning having a nightmare about business card designs, logo presentations and looming deadlines. I had done well with keeping my day job from interfering with my slumbers until now. On the one hand, it's been kinda sorta exciting to be interfacing with artists and designers in finalizing a big huge important presentation to a big huge important client. I find the creative process endlessly fascinating when it involves a team. On the other hand, waking up in the dark all nervous about conveying this or that message to this or that person before deadline and not knowing how said message will make finishing the project either slightly more difficult or completely impossible... apparently I could have used another Dead Guy Ale last night.

Meanwhile, my own creative life (outside of reviews, of course) is seriously lagging, suffering from a loss of inspiration and drive. It's begging me for a complete re-evaluation of where I'm at in life. Apparently the course of action I chose last year, that being to immerse myself in web technology training while keeping up with writing and playing music a little at a time, isn't working. What will work? Answering this question is now more important to me than getting some web work, finishing a work of fiction, writing songs, or anything else I've wanted to do. It's back to fact-finding, compiling other possibilities, and trying other things out till something sticks and I can confidently say, "yes, this is what I'm doing, and I love it."

And then, from there, I'll be glad to have some more nervous nightmares.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lest we forget (or buried news, perhaps)

With all the hype surrounding Radiohead's direct-to-the-fans approach to releasing their new album, In Rainbows (which is a great album by the way, if you like Radiohead and think their last two albums were great), I was reminded of a news bit by Troy Carpenter that appeared in Billboard back in January of 2005:

At this late juncture, most artists have an idea how they're going to deal with digital distribution and the perceived threat of peer-to-peer file-trading. Something going on at Juliana Hatfield's official Web site to this end demands the attention of the curious.

Hatfield, whose last release was the 2004 album "In Exile Deo" (Rounder), has been posting unreleased tracks at her Web site since early December, offering MP3s for unlimited download, on the honor system. Remember the honor system?

Yes, next to each pair of tracks posted for download, Hatfield provides a link to Paypal, the popular online payment site, where a donation can be made to the artist. The iTunes-forged standard of a buck per song is suggested. Alternatively, downloaders are urged to send a dollar in the mail.

So far, the system seems to be working, as future postings have thanked listeners for their donations. So far, 14 Hatfield songs have been uploaded, essentially spanning her solo career, and to accompany the latest batch, the artist wrote a letter explaining the origins of each song so far posted.

Later that year, Juliana released Made In China on her own Ye Olde Records label, with the help of the funds raised from her experiment.

Though Juliana, whose "My Sister" and "Spin The Bottle" were radio hits around the same time that Radiohead made themselves known with "Creep," didn't maintain the kind of massive momentum that Radiohead did, she proved early on that there was still enough goodness and honesty in people to make some bread in the digital free-for-all environment that is wreaking havoc on major labels (it's their own fault!). And it looks like what Juliana called the "honor system" has apparently worked tremendously in Radiohead's favor this time around, according to early speculation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Introducing... Chris Robley

Chris Robley performing at BrainWash in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2007.

Some time ago, last month maybe? (Swiss cheese memory strikes again!), I received one of many regular "new CD arrivals" emails from Bullz-Eye. One of the discs I saw listed was The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love by some guy out of Portland, Oregon, named Chris Robley. My eyes jumped out, because I knew a Chris Robley back when I was attending East Greenwich High School in its small namesake town dead center in the state of Rhode Island. Was this the same guy?

After following a link to Chris' myspace page and sending him an email, I happily discovered that it was indeed the same Chris Robley. And here I was about to review his album, whether it was him or not, just out of curiosity from name recognition alone.

Turns out the album is damn good too. It's mostly acoustic guitar based, with loads of other instruments adding color and flavor and a lyrical sensibility that would probably have Harry Nilsson banging down his door if here were still alive. You should see a review on Bullz-Eye probably by Friday of this week, if not next.

Chris concluded a brief West coast tour on Saturday in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, at a place called BrainWash. It's a most unusual venue - part laundromat, part bar, part restaurant (the burgers looked amazing, but I stuck to a chai latte as I had already eaten), part video arcade, part internet portal... oh, and they host live music too! It was at this weird place where Chris - the guy who convinced me that 1980s Miles Davis albums weren't crap, hipped me to Jaco Pastorius' Birthday Concert, and played guitar so well that I used to call him "God" - and I reconnected after eleven years. We even did an "interview" across the street at Julie's Supper Club, the results of which will also be making their way over to Bullz-Eye once I finish transcribing the recording.

I say this with no amount of bias (call me a liar if you want, but I'm sticking to my story): hearing Chris' new music has been the biggest musical joy for me all year. There's a purity in his songs and performances that I haven't been able to find in a lot of the new discs I've heard this year, even in discs I've enjoyed tremendously from established artists like Modest Mouse, PJ Harvey, Springsteen... OK, I'm not going to say anything I've heard has bested McCartney's new one, but he's in a class by himself. But seriously, check this guy out!

And from youtube... a clip of Chris overdubbing a keyboard part on his song "Little Love Affairs." He uses analog tape, yet another reason to buy his albums!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Genesis, HP Pavilion, San Jose (10/9/07)

It wasn't the Peter Gabriel-fronted lineup, but Genesis still played a mostly excellent set in San Jose on Tuesday night. Rode down there with Julie and a couple of her friends, ate a typically overpriced meal inside the venue, and didn't have to wait long past the 8pm start time for the band to take the stage.

Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were joined by the touring members who had been with them since the late '70s - drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist Daryl Stuermer. Phil and Chester were drumming together on separate kits for a good chunk of the night, and that's exactly how the show started. They opened with an instrumental intro based on "Behind The Lines" and "Duke's End" from the 1980 album Duke, and with the way the lights were cast, I actually couldn't tell who was on which drum kit. Both Chester and Phil are bald, and the lights made it difficult to tell which guy was black and which guy was white. But when Phil stepped down from the stage right kit to take the microphone on "Turn It On Again," suddenly Chester's darker complexion stood out.

"Turn It On Again" sounded a bit sluggish (due in no part to Phil's pudgy belly, mind you), and like most of the vocal tunes in the set, was taken down to a lower key to make it easier for Phil to sing. I got used to it after a while, but it was a shame Phil wasn't hitting as many high notes as he used to.

After a couple more big pop hits, they dug into the first of several longer prog highlights from the '70s. "In The Cage" started out sounding kind of sparse and the audience seemed not all that enthused, but by the time the band had kicked up the intensity halfway through the song, and then segued into an instrumental slice of the odd-metered "The Cinema Show" and concluded the extra long medley with "Afterglow," we were hearing some of the loudest applause of the evening so far.

Next thing I witnessed was a first for me. Phil sat on a stool to sing the suitable-for-the-dentist-chair ballad "Hold On My Heart," a song that was probably best left for one of his solo records. Apparently a good chunk of the audience agreed, because this was the first time I had ever witnessed a mass exodus to the bathrooms during a performance of a top 40 hit at any concert I've ever attended. "Follow You, Follow Me" received a much warmer reception. It's a slight little ditty, but there's something attractive about it. Perhaps the fact that it was born organically, out of a jam, is what has given it some appeal over the years. Not only that, it was the only song played where Phil was drumming and singing at the same time, which is always a fascinating thing to watch, especially for those of us who can barely coordinate one foot with two hands behind a kit, never mind the other foot and vocals too.

Other highlights:
The "Firth of Fifth" instrumental featured Daryl on lead guitar, segueing into a crowd-pleasing rendition of "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)." This tune was about as close as the Peter Gabriel era got to a pop hit, and it works very well in an arena setting with Phil making it all his own.

"Ripples" was a nice surprise thrown into the set, though Darryl's guitar could have been turned up.

The drum duet between Chester and Phil started out with the two of them banging away on what appeared to be a tall stool. They gradually moved away from the stool and onto their respective kits without missing a beat. Here's a youtube clip from the show, just over a minute long, capturing the transition:

The duet crashed head on into "Los Endos," yet another '70s instrumental. This one pretty much contained all the most memorable musical themes from the A Trick Of The Tail album, and it came alive on stage in a way that the record never did.

They really piled on some prime old material, and it was all received quite well and played even better. They could have dropped some of the '80s hits and I'm sure few would have minded. Though I must admit, even though "Throwing It All Away" is one of their less interesting pop songs (yet another that would have been better kept for a Phil solo album), the video screen behind the band during this song was a kick to watch. Cameras would zoom in on various people in the audience, and it was a matter of a second or two before the person would notice his or her image up on the screen. Every person spotlighted seemed to delight in the attention. I kept waiting for someone to cover their face in embarrassment, but no luck - everyone was a star and enjoyed it.

Set list:

Duke's Intro (Behind The Lines)
Turn It On Again
No Son Of Mine
Land Of Confusion
In The Cage / The Cinema Show / Duke's Travels / Afterglow
Hold On My Heart
Home By The Sea / Second Home By The Sea
Follow You, Follow Me
Firth Of Fifth / I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Throwing It All Away
Drum Duet
Los Endos
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Invisible Touch

I Can't Dance
The Carpet Crawlers

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cosmic Control reclaims Modesto!

L-R: Brian Bedell, Don Gerron, Brandon Kane, Rachel Knutton, Lara Schneider

Back on September 10, 2001, I started a job at Brown University working alongside a guy who would become a close friend, Brandon Kane. The next day on the job was an instant bonding experience, as we experienced the shock of witnissing the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center only moments after they happened, via webcasts, NPR and CNN. Needless to say, little work was done that day.

Brandon was just beginning work on his Diabolical Tales trilogy at the time. Six years later (last Friday night to be exact), Brandon and a small delegation from Cosmic Control Productions arrived in Modesto for the annual Shockerfest International Film Festival. The horror/sci-fi fest featured shorts and features from independent filmmakers, and among those featured was CC's own Diabolical Tales Part II: Vengeance of the Men from Within the Earth.

The first of the three Diabolical shorts was screened at the fest last year. Set in the 1950s, the sci-fi/schlock trilogy follows the adventures of FBI Agent Cooper (Brian Bedell) as he fights to protect America from the evil pursuits of Master Zun (Don Gerron) and his men (and women) living beneath the earth, who are bent on enacting the destruction of the "surface dwellers."

Even more than a triumphant return to Northern California for the cast and crew, it was specifically a happy occasion for us all to hang out again. Even though I wasn't part of the cast or crew, I was hearing all about the process from beginning to end, and felt like I knew many of the cast before I finally did meet them off-screen.

Diabolical Tales Part II was screened on Saturday evening. In attendance were Kane (writer/director), Don & Wendy Gerron, Brian Bedell, Rachel Knutton (Kate Cooper), and Lara Schneider (Zeena). And though this was the second trip to Modesto for all but Lara, it also turned out to be the first time for all but Don & Wendy to visit San Francisco (minus Bedell, who headed off to Sacramento to visit family). We drove down on Sunday to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and check out the Blue Angels, who had been flying over the city all week. I didn't get any shots worth posting, unfortunately, as my fingers were fumbling. The jets were flying awfully close to the bridge, and one even skimmed the surface of the bay. The skimming I actually missed, but Brandon caught it and described the water mist that rose up as looking like a force field surrounding the jet. The weather was perfect, and we actually found parking, which didn't look promising when we first arrived at the vista point.

Diabolical didn't end up with a nomination this time, but it has another shot at another festival. It Came From Lake Michigan 2007, an indie film fest in Wisconsin taking place October 26-28, will be screening both the second and third Diabolical shorts. And next year, I'll especially be looking forward to the premier of Brandon's first feature length film, Scorpion Bowl.

It's been great not only watching these films emerge from an idea on paper to an actual product, but getting to know everyone involved. They become their own little worlds, which is ultimately the reason why they're so much fun for someone like Brandon to make. They're not just technical or artistic achievements, they're social networks. That's what keeps the process rolling. It's all about the people.

- - -

UPDATE: Brandon has posted more photos on the Diabolical site!

Monday, October 8, 2007

New reviews & previews

Actually, these have been posted for over a week now, and I'm just finally getting around to posting 'em here:

I've got one over at Bullz-Eye, a review of J.J. Cale's Rewind: Unreleased Recordings. If you like Clapton, you should look into this one. If you don't like Clapton, you should look into it too. He's an American original with one consistent sound, so if you like one recording, you'll probably like 'em all.

And then, over at West Coast Performer, I cover the latest from the Beltholes. Excellent band, best CD I've reviewed for Performer so far, and dig that Meet The Beatles LP cover homage.

(As always, all my reviews can be read in one place at The Front Parlour.)

Coming soon: more reviews (of course), and, shooting for tomorrow sometime, a recap of Cosmic Control Productions' return to Northern California this past weekend...