Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Here comes funcrunch!

(photo by Justin Flores)

Only five short weeks until my band workshop performance takes place. All the details are below. I wasn't sure how well I'd get it together between the day job, continuous writing for bullz-eye and Performer, and searching out further opportunities, but I can confidently say that we're all playing very well together. If you've got the time, it'll be worth your while to come by and check it out! Otherwise you'll have to wait for the video footage...

funcrunch consists of Mike Avery (drums), Julie Bernstein (vocals), Mike Fortes (bass & vocals), Rex Pembroke (guitar & vocals), Ziggy Tomcich (keyboards), and band leader Steve Kirk (guitar & vocals).

We've put together a dynamic, diverse 40-minute set of classic and contemporary rock. Songs range from well-known classics by Yes, Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits, to alt-rock hits by Audioslave and the White Stripes, to some obscure tunes by bands you've never heard of, including an original song written by our guitarist, Rex. Oh, and there's a Bob Dylan tune in there somewhere.

We will be appearing at Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco, on Monday, March 31, as part of the Blue Bear School of Music's quarterly band workshop showcase. Each quarter, Blue Bear resides at a local San Francisco rock club to show off the school's talent. This quarter marks Blue Bear's debut at the most excellent Cafe du Nord.

We're expected on stage around 9:30pm. Doors open at 6:30pm. Admission is a suggested donation of $10-$20. You may purchase tickets in advance online at cafedunord.com.

"Seating in our showroom is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Patrons with advance dinner reservations receive seating priority. Due to the limited number of seats in our showroom, dinner reservations require a minimum food order of $15 per person." I have not sampled the menu at du Nord, but given that seats go quickly, I'd suggest eating before you get there. But it's definitely something to consider.

If you have kids, feel free to bring them along -- Cafe du Nord is an all ages venue!

Full Cafe du Nord event calendar for March

Hope to see you there!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gluttony, music, and many visuals / Portland travelogue Part 2

Bet you didn't think there was going to be a part 2, huh?

It's funny how making a sweeping statement like "I always finish my food" can suddenly induce buried memories of the times when such was not the case. Example: I now distinctly remember not finishing my meal during a lunch date a little more than a year ago. I was way more interested in my date than the so-so Chinese food I was eating and didn't feel the desire to show off my superior gluttony skills. And I did it again on Saturday, with Chris and Krissy when we went out for breakfast on Saturday morning. I became so full while trying to finish off my blueberry hotcakes and fruit cup, that I simply could not fit the remaining one quarter of both items I had ordered. I felt a little guilty, but a lot satisfied. And relieved. Off the hook. You know, it's a vacation. Screw it, I'm leaving some scraps.

It was kind of difficult trying to peer through thick clouds to catch glimpses of Mt Hood and the other nearby peaks around Portland, but then I expected this to be the case. The weather in Portland isn't perfect, and it can be close to awful if gazing at far-off snowcaps is one of your greatest thrills. I got lucky on Sunday though, once the sky cleared up for our trip to Multnomah Falls. Mostly sunny, clear skies, water misting in the air by the falls... it was a great hike up to the top, as Chris and I pondered the adventures of Christopher McCandless in Into The Wild (which I had seen the previous Monday, to lasting and profoundly existential effect).

Saturday was the night when I finally experienced some homegrown Portland music after listening and writing about some of it from afar. And lucky me, the charming Mississippi Studios venue had yet to begin its upcoming remodel. Its current state is quite charming, though apparently not very conducive to packing in enough folks to make for better business. The stage is maybe, oh, 8 inches off the ground, immediately to your right when you walk in the front door (which you cannot enter during a performance, so you have to go through the restaurant next door). Straight ahead when you walk in the door is a stairway leading up to a recording studio, office and "backstage" area which could more accurately be called an "upstage" area. But back down on the ground, there are cute woooden folding chairs set up in front of the stage in about three rows if memory serves me well, with some pew-like benches in the last row. More seating is a few steps above, and when you walk up to that area, you also make your way past a small sound area and a tiny bar on the left, and a ticketing area on the right. Patrons are actually supposed to enter from the back, after walking through the Mississippi Station restaurant next door, which is apparently under separate ownership despite bearing a similar name. Later in the evening, when Chris and I tried to walk into the restaurant from the back, we were kicked out for having beers in our hands purchased from Mississippi Studios... but back in the performance space... the walls were red, bearing local art depicting Hank Williams, a barely recognizable Bob Dylan, and some old-fashioned signage. The bathroom in the back by the bar was quite possibly the single coolest bathroom I have ever seen -- its walls were covered with 78 RPM records. It didn't matter that the sink had no hot water or that ordinary paper towels were the only reasonable hand-drying method available. I felt compelled not only to take photos of the interior of this most awesome lavatory, but also to rave about said facility to the beautiful, soft-spoken singer-guitarist I found standing outside the door upon my exit during the afternoon soundcheck I attended.

Lila Nelson at first appeared to be kind of shy, reserved, quiet. She had a real country charm to her. She reminded me of this girl Nadine I used to know, only if she were a singer-songwriter from Northern California and not quite as scary-thin. Turns out Lila is based in Arcata. I had to hear what she sounded like. Not knowing whether I'd be returning in time to catch her set, I asked if she had a myspace page. As I'd find out, not only does she have a myspace page, she also has a myspace song that would have some of her audience in stitches over what seemed like 10 or so minutes of first-person lyrics sung to "Tom" and myspace's corporate owner, News Corp's Rupert Murdoch.

But yes, I did return for Lila's 8pm set, and the shy-ish girl I had talked to earlier was now singing "cute" (as Chris described them) folk songs and chatting up the audience about wanting to run away from kindergarten after her teacher called her a dodo bird, her displeasure over Neil Young's recent comments about music not being able to make a difference (he may be wrong in the future, but I think he's right now), and all the while making the audience laugh. She was a total ham, surely worth a smile.

The late show was the primary reason I was there though. Rachel Taylor Brown was scheduled to play a set with Chris on toy piano and assorted primitive sound effects devices, and Ben Landsverk on viola, percussion, etc. The vibe was completely different for this set, which had many decorations on stage: colored lights housed in spheres of hardened yarn wrapped around the piano at which Rachel sat, a "percussion tree" (which was really just a wooden coat rack used to hang percussion instruments), not to mention Chris' toy piano and sound effects rig... Rachel shied away from some of the heavier themed songs like "Another Dead Soldier In Fallujah" from her upcoming album Half Hours With the Lower Creatures, and the between song banter made for some entertaining moments (particularly the introduction of "Christmas Robely" and his son "Ramadan"), but clearly Rachel is cut from a very different cloth compared to what was heard earlier in the evening. Less entertainer, more artiste. (A review of the news album is forthcoiming, as I'm sure you expected.)

Book shopping (Powells!), record store hopping (Music Millenium! Jackpot!) and some yummy meals took up most fo the rest of the trip. And now I'm back... three days later and my brain is tired all over again. But at least I finished that book I bought at the airport. One down...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A bad habit (newly formed) / Portland travelogue Part 1

First, let me say how much I can't stand the sound of screaming children. Particularly on airplanes. Or in Target. I can at least choose not to shop at Target (which I do -- as in, I do choose to avoid the place as if it's an epicenter for airborne cancer). But I must use air travel services if I want to quickly arrive at a far-off destination. And I unfortunately do not pull in the kind of cash that would allow me to charter a private jet. So commercial airlines shall remain the way to go for little bearded me.

Strangely, after I wrote the first two sentences of this petty rant, the kid who prompted my wholly unnecessary intro paragraph clammed up real good. Meanwhile, some non-commotion ensued over the guy next to me having settled into the wrong seat here on United flight 522. He was in 9B, but his ticket was for 8B. Fortunately for this visually challenged passenger, people in the Bay area aren't terribly picky about such details, and the misplaced man's fellow passengers stepped up to assure the flight attendant, who was twitching over the fact that the flight was 100% full, that it was all good. Seemingly upset that the fight he tried to pick was instantaneously quashed by good will, he turned to his female co-attendant and sarcastically remarked, "are we on Southwest or United?"

But oh yes... the bad habit (newly formed) that this trip reminded me of, which was what prompted me to put pen to paper (literally -- this is an after-the-fact transcription).

So I'm about to hop on a flight to Portland, using some miles I had accumulated via the generous folks at United Airlines, and I had it in mind that I should pick up a bottle of wine for my friend Chris and his wife, who both graciously invited me to visit. While scouting around for a place in the labirynth that is San Francisco International Airport where I could purchase some kind of zin or syrrah, I gave in to the temptation to stop at Compass Books. Never mind the fact that I had intentionally left behind my half-read copy of Dan Matovina's Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger specifically so I would be forced to write, rather than read, while in transit. Granted, I'm writing now, but still, I'm not writing what I had intended to write (as in, the next batch of reviews I have due). And what I'm writing now is partially inspired by (or in response to) (or not) what I ended up buying at Compass (thanks a lot, Chuck Klosterman)!

So now, by my count, I have started reading five different books, and that's not counting the used copy of one of a handful of Bob Dylan tomes I bought last Fall that I have yet to start, nor the book on vampires of New England written by an ex-girlfriend's father that I got halfway through before my Halloween spirit started to evaporate. I swear I will finish it once that urge to tramp through graveyards in search of ghosts returns. And mark my words, it will return, because it happened once, and that in turn means I will want to revisit it again, because anything I find pleasurable can't happen only once. It's the law. Or "a" law.

But anyway, the fact that I have not finished reading six different books does not make me proud. It's not "me" to leave a book unfinished, or a drink, or food. I won't even watch a movie halfway (unless someone else is in control of the DVD player) or listen to an album halfway (unless I've heard it all the way through at least once and I really need to watch my time). And yet, I can't seem to help myself. It's like a private rebellion against myself (or against the idea of another ex-girlfriend so proudly proclaiming that she always finished everything she started, so it's like I'm creating a reason to justify the fact that we're no longer together since it makes more sense to me than the real reasons behind the split. Or not.) to indulge in that gross form of American excess where we can just take a bite of, say, a donut, toss the rest, and then start munching on a cheesecake, toss that, and then wash it down with some diet cola. I hate living that way. It makes me sick just to watch people who indulge in wasteful and unhealthy habits, especially if they can't really afford to do it but insist anyway out of some sense of either entitlement or having to keep up with the SUV-driving beyond-their-means mortgage holders living next door. And to be honest, my newly formed habit of not finishing things is really only limited to books at this point (and songs too -- I make Axl Rose look prolific, since I've never released an album in my life). I simply do not have it in me to leave any morsel of food and drink undigested, except for that awful bottle of pinot grigio sitting in my fridge thath I probably won't even cook with since there are so many pieces of cork floating in it. Nope, it's just books for now. And that includes the one I started writing. I got to page 10 and I ran out of writing vibes. Someday I'll finish it. I hope. But not this week. Or month. Or year. Not that I'm giving up. I have other things to write. Reviews, mostly. And I will finish reading the Badfinger book first because there's an artist guide riding on its completion. Actually, I could write the artist guide right now, without having to finish the book, since I know Badfinger's catalog front to back and have enough of their history up in my head to make for a decent guide. But I've convinced myself that reading this book first -- which I should have bought and read seven years ago -- will enable me to write a better guide. And for that reason, all the other books I started shall remain untouched for a while, in hopes that new distractions do not cause me to forget that I own them once the Badfinger dust settles.

And by the way, I'm done.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Herbie Hancock
I wish I had been in front of a TV to witness the moment Herbie Hancock won the Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters. The album truly deserved the honor -- it's a brilliant record, with beautiful, unique interpretations of Joni Mitchell's songs and just a project overflowing with creativity, passion and genuine love for the material. And Wayne Shorter! What more can you say? It was my personal favorite of '07 (just behind McCartney's Memory Almost Full), and I think this is the first time ever that an album I rooted for in this category actually received the award. The man has been at it for close to 50 years, and it's about time -- not just for Herbie, but for jazz as a genre. The academy just earned a whole lot more of my respect.

I hear the ticking of the clock...

I literally hear the clock tick every day now. The old blue alarm clock that my grandmother gave to me almost 20 years ago finally bit the dust. Much as I would love for time to reset itself to midnight at any given moment, the rest of the world isn't having any of it. I was tempted to pick up one of those CD player clocks, or one of those units that plays music from a portable mp3 player. But I already have enough music playing devices. All I wanted was a time-keeping device and alarm, and I found what I was looking for in one of those wind-up clocks with a real bell alarm. Yes, they are still being made! And if it weren't for the glow-in-the-dark numerals on the clock's face, it could be mistaken for a much older device. The bell alarm is jarring, and since it's wind-up powered, I won't have to worry about waking up late if the power goes out at night (or changing batteries for back-up). Simple solution, quickly implemented.

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Dengue Fever 'Venus on Earth' album coverMore reviews posted since last time... I covered Dengue Fever's new one for Bullz Eye, and a disc by a local band called Diego's Umbrella for West Coast Performer in their current issue. More to come on that front, as always.

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Band workshop is nearing the halfway point. We have now rehearsed half of the songs we've decided on playing, and we're sounding better every time. I had my first shot at singing and playing bass at the same time (on a Dylan tune) in yesterday's rehearsal, which went much better than I thought it would. The instructor encouraged me to immitate some of Dylan's phrasing, and everyone seemed really happy with the results. Our keyboard player, Ziggy, was struggling with the changes, but I'm pretty confident that he'll be comfortably acing 'em in no time. The form of the tune is outside of what he usually plays, and is ironically much simpler than what he generally excells at (progressive, new age-type material). Maybe it's like trying to make Philip Glass play the blues, but fortunately rock n' roll was made for this kind of mixing of musical backgrounds. It's the great bastard genre, and we're finding a way to make it work for us. Being that we all like each other personally, I know it's going to sound great in the end.

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Birthday is coming up (that ticking clock won't let me forget!)... but I have no big celebration planned this time. Nope, just a trip up to Portland next weekend to visit Chris and check out a Saturday night performance by Rachel Taylor Brown (whose new album is excellent, by the way -- look for a Bullz Eye review on that one in the not too distant future). The Portland scene has held my interest since reconnecting with Chris last Fall, so I'm particularly looking forward to visiting the city for the first time and hearing some of the music live, in its natural environment, not to mention hangin' again with an old friend...