Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Parlour to Parlour: Epilogue and Acknowledgments

(This entry is reprinted in its entirety from the original post at Popdose.)

And so we’ve reached that final milestone – just as I promised back in June, we have now completed 26 episodes of Parlour to Parlour, one for each week of the second half of 2009.

When I started this project more than thirteen months ago, I was reacquainting myself with the workings of that nifty device known as the portable video camera. My old buddy Scott was in the middle of a 5-week stay at my place (at that time) in San Francisco’s Lower Haight district, and while he was down on his luck and not up to his usual standards of motivation during his stay, he perked up not just at the prospect of working out with me at the gym, but also to exercise some of his camcorder knowledge by helping me transfer some Hi8 video to Mini DV so I could easily import the footage into my Mac. That footage, which I shot as Scott looked on, eventually became Episode 0 – it was meant only as a practice run to get my feet wet again.

Of course, once I started having serious discussions with Brandon Kane, an independent film director and screenwriter down in the Phoenix area who I have considered a close friend since that fateful bonding moment we had on our second day working together at Brown University – September 11, 2001 – it became clear to me that it would probably be OK to use this footage for the actual project. Brandon knows my eyes are pretty good, but his are infinitely better, and if it weren’t for his feedback, Episode 0 would probably still be sitting in a box underneath my desk.

And the subjects of that pre-episode – Chris Robley and the Fear of Heights – were also friends. Scott and I both knew Chris from our formative days growing up in Rhode Island’s East Greenwich school district. I know a lot of us have differing opinions on what it was like going through that system, but speaking only for myself, I can confidently say that, while it wasn’t perfect, it was worth whatever hassles there were if only for the few lifelong friends who came out of it with me. Even if I could only claim one friend from the experience, it would have been worth it.

And so began the Parlour to Parlour journey, ensconced among friends who were enthusiastic about the idea and excited to see how it would unfold.

In a sense, I knew in some general ways just how it would unfold. Most artists I contacted would be game, some would not, and overall we’d all have a good time putting these episodes together. Given that I chose all these artists based on the fact that I actually liked their music and wanted to give them another unique forum to show it off, it was also hardly surprising that, following sessions where I’d be hearing a song played at least twice as I recorded it, these songs would be stuck in my head for weeks after our sessions had ended, effectively providing part of my soundtrack for the year.

I did have a feeling that, given how much energy I was putting into this project, I’d probably not be in any position to wrap my head around a ‘best of the year’ or ‘best of the decade’ contribution to Popdose. Sure enough, when the call came around, I couldn’t be bothered. Parlour to Parlour was the here, the now, and the sole focus. For once, my love of history was put on the back burner, and aside from a small tinge of guilt in the back of my head, I really didn’t mind.

But even with the amount of planning I put into this project from the outset, some things simply could not be predicted. There were some subjects who went way above and beyond the call of duty in their levels of graciousness and hospitality – they know who they are. And of course, when these folks (and all Parlour to Parlour subjects, for sure) are swingin’ through my neighborhood, they all know that they have a place to stay if they need it.

I took a chance with this one, but it paid off handsomely – given how much has been said over the past year about the demise of MySpace in light of the rise of Facebook and Twitter, who would have thought that MySpace would be the single most effective tool I had in reaching out to these artists? In most cases, tour schedules were more up-to-date on their MySpace profiles than on their regular web sites (for those who still have regular web sites, that is), which made scheduling a lot easier. That they were also checking their mail regularly and actually responding was proof positive to me that, while MySpace may have died as the dominant social networking platform, it’s still very much alive and well as a networking community for independent musicians. Plus, how great is it that you can stream their tunes in full with minimal hassle on a MySpace profile and find out right then and there whether you want to spend more time listening, attending their shows, and keeping up with them in general? Don’t count MySpace out just yet.

And then there were all the other circumstantial unknowns… like the opportunity for me to move to a new apartment just four months into the project. Or the giddy feeling that would pulse through me each time I reviewed the footage of my most recent shoot. Or how much stress I would be feeling during that period where I was both editing final episodes on a regular schedule and making arrangements to shoot the last six, yet too proud/stupid/oblivious to do something about it, and failing to speak up and realize how it was affecting at least one very important person in my life. Or how heavily I would rely on the audio mastering expertise of Popdose’s own Ted Asregadoo, to the point where I ate into his Mix Six schedule. Or that I would grow so close to lighting assistant Rebecca Stewart that many of my highest highs and lowest lows during the course of the project would be attributed to her presence. But of course, that’s just how it works – the lowest lows always happen on account of the highest highs, and I wouldn’t trade back those highs for anything (except perhaps the opportunity for a do-over with newly acquired wisdom – to be more present-minded – to make those highs even higher, and to head off those lows at the pass. But of course, that opportunity will never present itself as long as time travel remains an impossibility).

In the end, many more doors opened up on account of this journey than were open in the beginning, both of a musical and personal nature, and there are plenty more subjects I have discovered through this crop of artists that I could wrap into another season of Parlour to Parlour. But I am not quite ready to commit to announcing a second season just yet. You’ll have to wait to find out whether it will actually happen. If it does, you can expect an announcement here in mid-June. If it doesn’t, well, these videos aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so keep enjoying them as you see fit, and feel free to comment below on what your favorites were, what you’d like to see more of, what wasn’t so hot in your eyes, or anything else that might be on your mind.

Till then, I’m signing off here for a while. I hate to say it, but it does make me sad to see this project draw to a close. Rebecca saw it before I did – that sadness. But I’ve been so forward thinking all my life that – with some exceptions – I have tended to feel like it’s not worth wasting time on sadness. This time, there was no avoiding it.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey, and special thanks in particular to those I have listed below as part of the loose collective I have come to know as the Parlour to Parlour team:

  • Ted Asregadoo (audio mastering) – you probably had no idea what you were getting into when you offered your help in mastering my audio files. Thanks for being so patient and for never once flinching or losing your cool. Yours is a constitution we should all strive for. And given the varying quality of the sound files I sent you, the results of your work were superb! We are due for a bourbon fest soon.

  • Jeff Giles (Popdose editor in chief) – thanks for showing so much enthusiasm for this project and for being so supportive throughout the process. That green light you gave me had huge significance, as you can plainly see. Also, you were right – keeping me on camera was a good call.

  • Brandon Kane (Cosmic Control Productions, consultant and moral support) – thanks for cluing me into all the basic tools I needed to get started, for coaching me early on with regard to positioning and lighting, camera and audio equipment, alleviating my fear of shadows, and for plugging these episodes one by one as they were posted. I probably would not have had the courage to move forward with a project of this scope had you not involved me in your own full length feature project, so thanks for that opportunity as well.

  • Kelly Low (logo design) – thank you for taking time out of your regular work schedule to collaborate with me on the Parlour to Parlour look and feel. You took my rough pen sketch and turned it into a real brand with a personality all its own, one that reflects both my vision and your own sense of style, which I have always admired. The process was fun, smooth and easy, and I feel a great sense of pride every time I look at our work. And thank you for being so enthusiastic even after the work was done.

  • Lila Nelson (camera and lighting assistant – Episodes 1 and 2) – though I knew you would probably not be able to stick around for long due to your own gigs and such, I’m grateful that you took the time to lend your enthusiasm, willingness to learn, and comedic personality to the process of creating some of the first sets of narration inserts. Had you not spoken up and asked for the opportunity, I might have trudged on recording these things alone, essentially robbing the series of a subtle yet noticeable extra spark. …and if you haven’t already, get a Mac!

  • Rebecca Stewart (camera and lighting assistant – Episodes 5 through 25) – there’s so much to say, as no one besides me was more involved in this project than you. It’s no exaggeration to say that nobody was more passionate than you when it came to giving 100% to make sure things turned out not just right, but better each time. You thought outside the box every step of the way, continued to innovate your lighting techniques right to the very end, and I will always be grateful for you making the trips out to L.A. and Seattle to film Episodes 20-23 alongside me. You’ll never know just how sad I felt to finally tear down that paper monstrosity you built around the ceiling light in my office.

…and last but certainly not least, thanks to all the artists involved: Chris Robley and the Fear of Heights, Meredith Axelrod, Leopold and his Fiction, Silian Rail, The Aimless Never Miss, The Parson Red Heads, The Happy Hollows, Correatown, Le Switch, The Purrs, Rachel Taylor Brown, Lila Nelson, The New Up, Norfolk & Western, The Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band, The Dazzling Strangers, Bill Spooner, The Brother Kite, The Cobra Lilies, The Monolators, Half Light, The Tripwires, Steve Taylor, and Cyril Lepizzera. And also, thank you Tim Ryan – not just for giving us a place to stay, but also for introducing me to Jeff Giles in the first place.

Finally, I leave you with a bonus video left over from the Episode 24 sessions with Steve Taylor. After we had finished filming Steve’s performance of “Mystery,” he asked if I wouldn’t mind also getting some footage of him at the piano playing the song “River,” which was one song I had mentioned before ultimately deciding that “Mystery” belonged in Episode 24. The lyrics of “River” felt like they should end the series – something I wouldn’t have realized until just before filming Steve for Episode 24. So I’m including it here as the last word on Parlour to Parlour 2009. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Parlour to Parlour shreds in France with Cyril Lepizzera

In spite of my fairly well known (among friends, anyway) appreciation for good, quality heavy metal, it didn’t seem intuitive to chart that kind of territory in Parlour to Parlour. Not on the surface, anyway. But then I received a tip from an unlikely source last summer on a ridiculously talented guitar shredder residing in the south of France. His name? Cyril Lepizzera. And so began the farthest reaching, and most rewarding, leg of the Parlour to Parlour journey.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Busking with an actual piano?? Meet Steve Taylor...

Returning to the Bay Area, Parlour to Parlour comes full circle (though there is still one more special episode to come) with Steve Taylor. Just like Portland’s Chris Robley, Steve is prone to busking, and actually does it quite frequently. And like Meredith Axelrod, Steve also plays music as his sole source of income. In fact, it was a chance run-in with Steve following a set by Meredith Axelrod at the Haight Ashbury Street Fair in San Francisco last June (Steve was busking by some port-a-potties with his piano) that reminded me – this dude has chops and soul, and featuring him here would be a real treat.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Tripwires bring home the power pop to Parlour to Parlour

Again, I have Jason Milne from The Purrs to thank for introducing me to another great Seattle band. In this case, the band in question is the Tripwires, a no-nonsense power pop collective headed by singer/guitarist John Ramberg of The Minus Five. With the heroes and influences he claimed – personal favorites Badfinger, the Beatles and Cheap Trick among them – I knew we’d instantly have something over which to connect. But first, I had find him.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Parlour to Parlour returns to Seattle to meet Half Light

My original intent in returning to Seattle, after spending some time there with the Purrs, was to interview a band I had seen in 2008 that had left a lasting impression on me. As it turned out, the Purrs’ Jason Milne introduced me to his girlfriend, Half Light’s Dayna Loeffler, who in turn passed me a copy of their 2008 album Sleep More, Take More Drugs, Do Whatever We Want. I quickly let go of the idea of chasing down the other band as Half Light’s music – a spacey, shoegazey take on the kind of slow burning folk rock that was Mazzy Star’s bread and butter – slowly seeped into my consciousness.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the Parlour to the garage with the Monolators

It was the need to present an acoustic side of Eli and Mary Chartkoff’s music that caused the Cobra Lilies to form. And the band from which they came, the Monolators, embodies much of that same, fun loving spirit – with louder, faster, noisier electric guitars. This true-to-life garage band impressed me with a thread that continued through our most recent meeting, one that is common to every long-lasting and worthwhile rock n’ roll band in existence. It’s a thread we call persistence.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cobra Lilies - banjos and saxes and tap dancing, oh my!

As we enter the home stretch of the Parlour to Parlour journey, the artists preceding some of these final episodes became important to me not just for musical enjoyment, but also for their suggestions and recommendations, whether intended or not. In the case of the Cobra Lilies, it was Angela Correa who first planted the idea in my head (unintentionally) that they would be a sight to behold, burning an image in my mind of a saxophone-wielding Mary Chartkoff marching into a crowd in clogs.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Brother Kite's Parlour time is here!

For as long as I have known The Brother Kite, starting when my old friend Matt Rozzero became their drummer in 2004, I have been waiting impatiently for TBK to make a west coast appearance. After seeing them perform at a small club in 2006 in their hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, it became my favorite question to ask Matt. The excellent, shimmering Waiting for the Time to Be Right was about to be released, and with regard to their next album, I suppose they’re still waiting. But they’re getting closer…

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

At home with Bill Spooner, former Tube

In 1994, I picked up a double CD compilation called The Best Punk Album In The World… Ever! with some credit I had from a return at Circuit City. Sandwiched in between the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” and Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ “Blank Generation” was the Tubes’ “White Punks on Dope.” This was my introduction to the Tubes, and it had me wondering what the compilers were thinking, as this song seemed to be lampooning the “punk” movement in much the same way that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s We’re Only in It for the Money skewered hippies in the late ’60s. Plus the Tubes were clearly better musicians than most punks. Imagine my delight when I learned that I had the opportunity to receive guitar lessons from the Tubes’ own Bill Spooner when I moved to San Francisco…

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting to know the Dazzling Strangers

At my first Dazzling Strangers show at Kimo’s in San Francisco last year, the Chris Streng-led band ripped through a roaring cover of the Electric Prunes’ “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night.” I was with a group of friends that evening, and since none of them were familiar with the original classic 1960s psych rock single, they misheard it as “I Had Too Much to Drink Last Night,” and one could hardly blame them. Chris did appear drunk, and a few days later, he confirmed it as fact through an email. This cat became more curious by the minute.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band welcomes Parlour to Parlour to Texas

I knew that the Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band’s debut album, The Dicky Comstock Show, was going to be good. The band’s bassist/arranger (and a very good friend of mine), Josh Morrow, had been sending me rough mixes as he and singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Nate Dunton worked on the tracks. What I didn’t know was that the album would be so good, so engaging — magical, even — that it would be one of the most-played albums in my collection during 2007. But as much as I enjoyed the record, it was maddening to know that so few ears had a chance to hear it.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The interview you'll never hear with Norfolk & Western

I actually hadn't explicitly planned on getting footage of Norfolk & Western when I put together my initial wish list of Parlour to Parlour artists. I figured they might be good for a second season, once I had become more familiar with their recordings. I had seen them perform live once before, at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. Chris Robley was filling his usual role as supporting guitarist and keyboard player in their road band, so it was chance for me to see and hear him in a context other than what I was already used to.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The New Up shows us what a "pleasure pad" is...

The New Up, like Le Switch, was another band whose second time crossing my path felt just like the first. Only difference this time, other than the fact that their name remained the same, was that their sound had changed. Hooking up with noted producer/engineer Jaimeson Durr (Dan the Automator, Chickenfoot), the band had streamlined their studio sound, and after stabilizing their personnel, ended up with a polished modern rock identity that translated equally well on disc and on stage. Hearing them three years after the first live show of theirs I reviewed, I felt like I was hearing a whole new band.

See the full post at Popdose.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bob Dylan @ the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 10/10/09

Saw Bob Dylan last night night in Berkeley. Quick and to the point: best Dylan show of the five I've seen to date (previous shows I've seen were summer of '97 at Great Woods in Mansfield, Mass. with Ani DiFranco; spring of 2005 at the Paramount Theater in Oakland with Merle Haggard; fall of 2007 at the Ryan Center in Kingston, RI with Elvis Costello; and this summer at Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton, CA with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp).

His voice was clear and strong (relative for this period of his career, anyway) and he sounded like he was really enjoying the set. Spent part of the time at the keyboard, part of the time on guitar and harmonica, and part of the time singing without an instrument. Opened with an old Jesus song from his born again days, played some sweet new arrangements for "Mama, You've Been On My Mind" and "Cold Irons Bound," got the crowd all riled up with that "you think I'm over the hill" line in "Spirit On The Water" (just like he did at the Ryan Center), and best of all... NO opening acts, just Bob, with Charlie Sexton back in the band on guitar, and a nice long set in the open air. Show was sold out. He plays again at the Greek tonight (though I won't be there...)

Set list:

Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking
The Man In Me
Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
Mama, You've Been On My Mind
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
I Don't Believe You
My Wife's Home Town
Spirit On The Water
Cold Irons Bound
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Highway 61 Revisited
I Feel A Change Coming On
Thunder On The Mountain
Ballad Of A Thin Man

Like A Rolling Stone
All Along The Watchtower

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parlour to Parlour gets an intimate look at Lila Nelson

Waiting to get into the men’s room at Mississippi Studios in Portland, Oregon, I noticed a tall (relative to me, anyway), attractive young lady with a guitar standing quietly by. She was soft-spoken, seemed kind of shy, and turned out she was also visiting from California. Based in Arcata at that time, Lila Nelson was playing an early set before Rachel Taylor Brown that Spring night in 2008, and was about to completely rip apart my initial impression of her.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rachel Taylor Brown welcomes you to her Parlour!

As a member of Chris Robley’s band the Fear of Heights, keyboardist/ vocalist Rachel Taylor Brown had already endeared herself to me with her warmth and unique charm. Then I heard the opening strains of her album Half Hours With The Lower Creatures, and knew that there was so much more to Rachel than I could have imagined. I mean, the woman made music out of cash registers, essentially walking a fine line between serious metaphor and blatant absurdity. And it worked! As I found out, this time and times before, she’s always got something interesting going on.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chris Robley gets his "proper" Parlour to Parlour episode

When I started this series, I had initially intended for the footage that became “Episode 0” to be just a practice run. After all, I wasn’t yet in the frame of mind to pry open the mind of Chris Robley and his band mates in proper interview fashion. But I always did intend for Chris to have a “proper” episode, so finally, here it is – and filmed in Chris’ home in Portland, Oregon, the way it should be.

See the full post at Popdose.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parlour to Parlour gets buzzed in Seattle with the Purrs

Episode 10 marks a couple of big firsts for me. This was the occasion of my first visit to Seattle, which was surprisingly sunny and blue-sky laden in spite of its grey cloudy reputation. It was also the first time I met the members of the Purrs in person, after having continuously enjoyed the band's 2007 album, The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together, ever since it was sent my way by my Performer Magazine editor.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Le Switch's Aaron Kyle featured in Parlour to Parlour Ep. 9

My research skills were not at their best the night I first saw Le Switch perform live. At some point during the show at San Francisco’s Hotel Utah on October 25, 2008, frontman Aaron Kyle began to sing a song that sounded awfully familiar. Yet it was not a cover, that much I could tell. But how could that be? I haven’t heard anything else… wait a minute… THE Switch is how I knew them before! How did this not come up in any of my preparations? God, what an idiot.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Parlour to Parlour heads to Correatown

Back in February of 2008, I was covering a show at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco for West Coast Performer Magazine. I had a friend helping out with photos, and second on the bill was another friend, none other than Chris Robley. Following Chris' set, I was expecting a full band called Correatown, but what I got instead was a solo acoustic set by one Angela Correa.

See the full post at Popdose.

More radio exposure for Parlour to Parlour!

Parlour to Parlour was mentioned yet again on Jon Grayson's Overnight America program on CBS Radio. This time, I was the one who was representing Popdose on the air, and of course Jon asked me to talk a little about Parlour to Parlour. The program aired last night, and is now available to listen in Overnight America's archives. Follow this link, and then click on the 'Micahel Fortes' link once you get there.

Besides Parlour to Parlour (which gave me an opportunity to plug the Aimless Never Miss, the Happy Hollows and the Parson Red Heads), we discussed Ted Kennedy, music producer Tom Werman's final 'Producers' column for Popdose, the weekly Popdose feature 'The Friday Mixtape,' and the new exclusive-to-Wal Mart Foreigner album.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Parlour to Parlour visits the Happy Hollows in L.A.

After having said my goodbyes to Evan, Brette and Aaron from the Parson Red Heads, I took to the road to make my next appointment. I was due to meet the Happy Hollows, who I had first heard during the same month I was first introduced to the Parson Red Heads. Sarah Negahdari's seemingly boundless well of energy meshed so well with the pulsating, borderline-hardcore rhythms of bassist Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Hernandez that I had to meet this band.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Part Two of the Parson Red Heads' Parlour to Parlour adventure

On February 23, 2009, I awoke on Evan and Brette Marie Way's couch in their living room. It was a sunny L.A. morning, one that would be filled with music geek-out sessions, fruity crepes, friendly house cats, and of course, a fine interview for this very series. In part two of our visit with the Parson Red Heads, Evan, Brette and guitarist Aaron Ballard give a tour of their blissfully communal dwelling, and in the process, solidify the personal exchange that made this one of the key "parlour to parlour" moments of the entire series.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Parson Red Heads appear in the first of two episodes of Parlour to Parlour

To say that I was looking forward to taking Parlour to Parlour to L.A. would be the understatement of the year. Excitement was high for my visit to the city of angels, for I would be crashing with Evan and Brette Marie Way of the Parson Red Heads, one of the bands that had completely rejuvenated me last year. The couchsurfing aspect of the project began here.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Parlour to Parlour mentioned on CBS Radio!

Exciting Parlour to Parlour news! Overnight America's host, Jon Grayson, is featuring 15 minutes of discussion about four different Popdose articles each week on his syndicated CBS radio program. A different Popdose staff person will talk with Grayson each week. For the second spot in this series, Mojo Flucke, PhD, discusses, among other things, Episode 3 of Parlour to Parlour featuring Silian Rail! The program aired last night, and is now available to listen in Overnight America's archives. Follow this link, and then click on the 'MOJO' link once you get there.

Parlour to Parlour Episode 4 captures The Aimless Never Miss

This episode was the third and final shoot for the day on Saturday, February 15. After our session with Eric Kuhn and Robin Landy from Silian Rail in their Oakland practice space, Robin took off as singer/guitarist Jonny Latimer and bassist Andrew Macy arrived. Kuhn was ready for a second round, and I was ready to finally talk to a band I had been admiring from afar for half a year.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Parlour to Parlour goes instrumental with Silian Rail (Episode 3)

On the night of November 21, 2008, I found myself in the basement performance space of San Francisco's Retox Lounge, which was decked out with busted guitars, as well as seats and windows salvaged from a commercial airliner. The first band on the bill that night was Silian Rail, a guitar-drums instrumental duo that basically became my new Tristeza and Tortoise all rolled into one from the first tune they played.

See the full post at Popdose.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Parlour to Parlour continues with Episode 2: Leopold and his Fiction

To say that Sunday, February 15, 2009, was a busy day for me is an understatement.

I had decided to devote the entire day to Parlour to Parlour shoots, after discovering that I couldn't spread them across two days. Basically, nobody was willing to give up any of their precious Valentines Day hours for an interview. In hindsight, I should have known better than to propose V-day for anything other than a date. But all was well that ended well: I did have a date of my own on the 14th, and I made the rounds on the 15th to visit three different artists I had discovered through my time at Performer Magazine. Daniel James from Leopold and his Fiction was the first I met that day.

See the full post at Popdose.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Parlour to Parlour continues with Episode 1: Meredith Axelrod

We now begin the Parlour to Parlour journey in earnest, starting very close to home.

Meredith Axelrod was living just a short block away from my Lower Haight apartment in San Francisco when I was introduced to her. This 24 year old Chicago native was drawn to San Francisco "by the legend that the freaks and quirky people gather here," she told me. "I wanted to meet them."

See the full post (with two videos, two mp3 downloads, and the full write-up) at Popdose.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Parlour to Parlour begins today with Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights

Parlour to Parlour begins today with Episode 0. This footage, filmed in San Francisco, CA, during the weekend of November 14-15, 2008, on my grandfather’s old analog Hi8, was “just practice” and not originally intended for the series. But we liked it so much that it deserved a place in the series, even if it was out-of-concept in that it was the band visiting me, rather than the other way around. Hence “Episode 0.”

See the full post (which includes two videos, two mp3 downloads, and a full write-up) at Popdose.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood, Oracle Arena, Oakland, 6/29/09

June 29 came up all too fast. Any faster and I would have forgotten that I had a ticket to see Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood at Oakland’s Oracle Arena that night. Fast as it came though, the show itself lasted a good long while – close to three hours by my rough estimate.

I never had much of a huge interest in seeing a live Clapton show. I’ve always felt that there was very little about his music since his Derek & the Dominoes days that truly excited me. There were some good spots in his solo career since then – 461 Ocean Boulevard certainly has its moments (“Mainline Florida” and “Let it Grow” especially), Backless is a once-in-a-while guilty pleasure for the 8-track deck, and the laid back Reptile had just enough variety for me to make it my favorite solo Clapton record of the ones I’ve heard to date (and those sweet backing vocals from the Impressions certainly didn’t hurt). But overall, his career excited me far less than that of, say, Jeff Beck.

But the prospect of seeing Clapton with Steve Winwood, now that had me sold. Clapton seems to be most inspired when working alongside a peer (i.e. Duane Allman in the Dominoes, or as reports from Japan earlier this year confirmed, with fellow Yardbirds alumnus Jeff Beck). Teaming with Winwood worked well enough in Blind Faith in '69, so I couldn't imagine it not working in 2009. I was pretty much right.

Basically, I got everything I was expecting: a hearty dose of Blind Faith tunes (all of side one of their lone album, in fact), some Traffic tunes, the bluesier side of Clapton, and – best of all – a Clapton who was ripping solo after inspired solo all night. He was alternately slow and deliberate, a fleet-fingered show-off, a precise picker, and an infectious riff master. And Winwood was easily the evening's superior vocalist and Clapton's equal on keyboard, occasionally even sparring with Clapton on guitar when he wasn’t perched at either his organ or his piano.

Highlights: Forgot how cool that riff in “Had to Cry Today” is; “After Midnight” was slowed down to a more leisurely pace, though not quite as slow as the ‘87 Michelob version; Clapton and Winwood trading verses on “Presence of the Lord” and “Forever Man”; Winwood’s breathtaking solo rendition of “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”; “Split Decision” emerged as a long-forgotten, lost gem from Winwood’s commercial peak in the ‘80s; and the spirited dual guitar jam at the conclusion of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” ended the show on a natural high… though as you can imagine, joints were being passed around.

[RANT: I wish the screaming lady next to me would have taken a toke of the joint being passed around in front of me, because she was just WAY too hyper. She was shrieking non-stop throughout the show, and ridiculously so. I mean, you know you’re drunk when you start complaining that Eric Clapton isn’t singing enough hits or saying anything about Michael Jackson. I think she nearly climaxed when he encored with “Cocaine.” And then she had the nerve to ask me what country I was from! Apparently, if I had answered something other than the United States, she would have wanted to sleep with me, but I like my landlord too much to bring home a woman who could drown out a fire alarm.]

Two more points worth mentioning: it wouldn’t be a Clapton show without some straight up blues, and there was plenty of that to go around. Those tunes (“Low Down,” “Sleeping in the Ground,” etc.) didn’t stick with me as well as the others, but they sure sounded great at the time. The best of these without a doubt, though, was Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” No, not the more well-known “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that closes side 4 of Electric Ladyland, but the twice-as-long blues jam that closes side one of the original double LP. Winwood sang this one, but it was Clapton who intro’d the tune, singing along with the opening guitar melody: “I’m a voodoo chile / Lord knows I’m a voodoo chile.” It was at this very intro that it hit me: Winwood played organ on the original recording! Suffice to say, these guys did Hendrix proud.

Clapton couldn’t be bothered to say more than “hello!” and “thank you!” all night, but Winwood at least talked a bit to the audience before “Low Spark.” And still, the band wasn’t introduced, and since I didn’t do my research before the show, it didn’t quite register why the way the drummer was hitting his skins looked so familiar to me. It was because the guy was Abe Laboriel, Jr. – Paul McCartney’s drummer since 2001 (I've seen Paul eight times since 2002). Might be time for some glasses.

Thanks to, we have not only a list of the band members, but also an audience-shot video of “Cocaine” from the show (posted by YouTube user taste4phree).

The band:
Steve Winwood (vocals, piano, organ, electric guitar)
Eric Clapton (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals)
Chris Stainton (Keyboards)
Willie Weeks (Bass)
Abe Laboriel Jr. (Drums)
Michelle John & Sharon White (Backing vocals)

The set list:
Had to Cry Today
Low Down
After Midnight
Presence of the Lord
Sleeping in the Ground
Well Alright
Too Bad
Pearly Queen
There’s a River
Forever Man
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
How Long
Can’t Find My Way Home
Split Decision
Voodoo Chile

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Introducing... Parlour to Parlour

The following announcement appeared this morning on Popdose. I have reprinted it in its entirety below:

A year ago, I was in the midst of an existential crisis. I was functioning fairly well in my day job capacity at UCSF, and pumping out reviews for West Coast Performer Magazine,, and – on occasion – Popdose as well. But to what end?

I knew there was far more to life than keeping an office running and giving the world my informed opinion on which album had the greatest guitar solo of 2008 (it was actually on the Vagabond Skies EP by Peter Gabriel protégé Joseph Arthur). I had been reading self-help books, meeting with counselors, talking my parents’ ears off, and asking questions of anyone I thought might be able to give me some insight into the question of how best to realign my priorities.

Then, on a particularly odd day when I decided to load up WCP’s MySpace page to serve as my housecleaning soundtrack, I heard a song by a band whose stock in trade was warm, friendly harmonies, a ‘60s folk-rock streak and good vibes. Lots of other bands have these qualities, but something about this one was different. It moved me in a way I couldn’t quite explain. I jumped up from my sweeping chores to see who it was, and then checked the band’s tour schedule.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen L.A.’s the Parson Red Heads since that day.

Maybe a week afterward, I attended a West Coast Performer Presents showcase at a San Francisco club called the Hotel Utah. I wasn’t familiar with any of the bands on the bill, and to be honest, I probably didn’t even bother listening to the samples on the bands’ MySpace pages before attending – I was more tempted by my editor’s offer of a free beer to any WCP writers who showed up that night. And since a) I very rarely got much face time with her, and b) I was almost certain she was joking and wanted to see if I would *really* get a free beer, I decided I’d take her up on the offer.

Not only was she true to her word, the second band on the bill had my jaw falling to the ground with their quirkiness, energy, Dischord-styled rhythm section and Van Halen-esque guitar tapping frontwoman. I had found a hot new guitar hero!

On account of that beer, I confessed as much to the Happy Hollows’ Sarah Negahdari at the end of her set, and fortunately she was not only flattered, but also receptive to granting me an interview (which ran at Popdose last Fall). And what a coincidence, the Hollows hailed from same Silver Lake scene in L.A. as the Parson Red Heads.

Around this same time, I was also lamenting the fact that I had become so busy that I was no longer able to host couchsurfers in my apartment. I had been doing this on and off since 2005, giving both international and stateside travelers (usually students and others traveling on a budget) a free place to crash when they were passing through town. But, as I had remarked in private on a few occasions, I had built up significant “travel karma” and saw a time when I’d be using it in the not too distant future. For what, I wasn’t sure yet. But something told me that I finally needed to get over my attachment to the idea of the desktop computer and finally buy a laptop.

…and a backpack.

Where I was going and why finally became apparent when I happened to wonder to myself one day whatever happened to The War on Them. This web-only traveling video series chronicled the adventures of Eric and Bobby as they demonstrated the virtues of traveling on a budget via couchsurfing. They interviewed their hosts, gave travel and safety tips, and showed themselves having a good time in places like Memphis, New Orleans and New York City. But when they crossed the border for a trip down to Mexico City, Bobby got pick-pocketed on a train, tensions brewed between the two army buddies, who had survived a tour of duty in Iraq together before embarking on their righteous journey, financial backers fell through, and the series came to an abrupt end.

Just another case of naïve kids getting caught up in the realities of real life, right? Well, if it weren’t for the fact that, in 2006, Eric Wooton had stayed in my San Francisco apartment when passing through town, and shared his treatment of The War on Them with me well before the series launched, I wouldn’t have known nor cared about his adventures.

One thing in particular that Eric said had stuck with me ever since. As we sat on the futon and he explained the idea behind his series, he tied it to the larger goal of the couchsurfing community, which is connected globally via to bring the whole world together, one couch at a time. Sound like a bunch of hippie nonsense? Well, as Eric explained, when having personal one-on-one experiences with people from far-away places, especially foreign countries, it suddenly makes you care a little more about news events in those places, things you probably would have ignored otherwise.

Dots are starting to connect, yes? They certainly did for me, but not how I expected. This is how Parlour to Parlour was born.

What Parlour to Parlour is, then, is a cross between The War on Them and the Black Cab Sessions – traveling around to meet the artists up close in their home turf, rather than carting them around in taxis. And I’m not just capturing intimate, exclusive performances – I’m talking with the artists too, and having them do a little show-and-tell in their creative space. And more than just a simple video, I’m giving you a full multimedia experience: there are stories in text for you to read, songs to download, and each episode will also include a full song performance in a separate video (which, unlike the Black Cab Sessions, is done in two takes in most cases, sometimes three). And, in full couchsurfing spirit, I’m keeping costs low by crashing either with friends and family, or with the artists themselves, wherever I travel.

This, my friends, is what I am delivering to you, every Tuesday for the rest of the year, starting on July 7.

So who’s involved? The aforementioned Parson Red Heads and Happy Hollows were immediate contenders for this series, being that they literally changed my life in 2008. As for the rest of the artists featured in this series, the majority of them I discovered via my association with West Coast Performer Magazine. I started writing for WCP in 2006, the same year I wrote my first piece for Master Jefito during the waning years of Popdose’s daddy, Jefitoblog (that would be The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chicago). Writing for WCP, and especially working with my editor at the time, the passionate and persistent Katherine Hoffert, firmly posited me in the world of West Coast indie music. As such, there’s a definite skew towards the best coast, though I do give some love to New England and Southern Texas. And I’m determined to bring a little international flavor to Parlour to Parlour as well, soon as I can find where I stashed my passport.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, Parlour to Parlour is more than just “behind-the-scenes” peeks at indie musicians, many of whom aren’t particularly well-known outside their own regions. It’s a journey. It’s a path to discovery that anybody can follow, either by living vicariously through the stories and videos you’re about to see, or by going out and meeting new artists yourselves. It’s a tribute to the artists, all of whom I personally handpicked (one of whom, or at the very least the band he co-founded, should be quite familiar to Popdose readers). It’s a tribute to Katherine, who maddeningly lost her job at Performer when this bum economy forced the company to downsize. It’s a show of graciousness and generosity on the part of the artists who opened up their homes and studios to me, in some cases without us ever having formally met prior to these sessions. And as Mr. Giles could see from the very start, it’s a labor of love.

It’s also very real. So real, in fact, that at times you may catch the sound of people chatting in other rooms, birds chirping from nearby, and even the occasional bout of difficulty obtaining the best possible sound during the musical performances. Which is to say, I’m no Ken Burns (though Le Switch’s Aaron Kyle seems to think I’m “the Alan Lomax of indie rock” – keep on drinkin’, Aaron!). But if a drunk fool happens to cause a disturbance at a band’s gig, I’ll make sure you see it.

The Parlour to Parlour train starts chugging on July 7 (don’t need no ticket, you just get on board). I’ll see you then.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ventresco Axelrod & Foss live @ the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair

Here's the main reason why I made it to this year's Haight-Ashbury Street Fair:

On Friday night, the young ragtime/jugband singer/guitarist Meredith Axelrod gave me a call to let me know that she, Craig Ventresco and Bill Foss would be playing a short set on the Masonic stage. I had been awaiting a local opportunity to get some b-roll footage of Meredith playing with her jug band, and finally I had it. It tightened up my weekend schedule, but it was well worth it.

Consider this a sneak peek at my upcoming Parlour to Parlour series on Popdose. Meredith will actually be featured in the second episode, and some of the footage from today's set will be spliced in there somewhere. But here, for your pleasure, is a full performance of a hit tune from -- wait for it -- 1875! No, that's not a typo. "Carve Dat Possum", according to Wikipedia, was written by Sam Lucas, and was "very popular" in its day.

This tune does not feature Meredith playing her jug, but it does include Bill on Mandolin and Craig (who has a humorous little quip at the end of the tune) on guitar. Since Meredith's vocals aren't clearly audible in some spots, here are the lyrics to "Carve Dat Possum." Someday I gotta try this dish:

Possum meat is good an' sweet
Carve him to de heart,
I always finds it good to eat,
Carve him to de heart.

Carve dat possum!
Carve dat possum!
Carve dat possum!
Oh charve 'im to de heart!

I retch up an' pull him in,
Carve him to de heart,
Dat ol' possum 'gin to grin,
Carve him to de heart,

De way I cooked dat possum sound,
Carve him to de heart,
I fust parboiled, den baked him brown
Carve him to de heart,
I put sweet potaters in de pan,
Carve him to de heart,
De sweetest meat in all de lan'
Carve him to de heart.

Steve Taylor live @ the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair

I was rushing on my way out of the Haight-Ashbury Street Fair when I turned the corner onto Cole Street and saw this dude singing and playing an electric piano in a shady spot next to some port-a-potties. The cover of his CD sitting atop his keyboard caught my eye, and it was just enough for me to realize: holy shit, it's Steve Taylor!

I gave his album Has the Size of the Road Got the Better of You a mostly favorable review in last September's issue of West Coast Performer Magazine, being that I really dug his early '70s pop style. His piano playing and voice were unmistakable, and of all the places to find him, there he was, next to some johns as opposed to getting paid to play on one of the main stages. This injustice better be corrected next year!

Steve graciously allowed me to tape him (yes, I just so happened to have my camera on me, how convenient). Here he his performing his song "Felicity," which is the second tune on the above mentioned album. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Top 10 reasons I haven't blogged in 3 months

10. If it's not on Facebook, it doesn't exist
9. I've given in to the evils of Twitter (follow "frontparlour")
8. I've rediscovered women
7. I'm hiding from "the others"
6. Took on another paid writing gig (seriously!)
5. Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say
4. I moved six weeks ago and still haven't decorated my walls. Anyone want to gift me with a framed original John McLaughlin?
3. Trying to figure out what happened to my umbrella
2. I still owe Bullz Eye two reviews that I haven't started yet

...but most of all, this is a biggie:

1. Remember that post I made about "other crap" back in October of '07? Of course you don't, nobody has an attention span like that anymore.

Anyway... I'm working on a video series for Popdose that will run weekly starting in July. It's called "Parlour to Parlour," and that's all I'll say about it for now. Been in production since January, and I'm starting to wind it up with my last few shoots before marathon editing sessions begin in June. I'll seriously have a more detailed update before it runs. Till then, sit tight, because this is going to be a pretty major event not just for me and for Popdose, but also for the 20-plus indie artists I've roped into this project. This is the engine that's driving me these days.

More soon (seriousy).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My ears hurt - thank you, Grammys

I hate to say this, but I don't think I can stomach sitting through the rest of this year's Grammy Awards to see Paul McCartney with Dave Grohl, even though that's the one performance I want to see the most. Stevie Wonder was predictably awesome with the Jonas Brothers, who I hadn't ever made an effort to listen to until now. It was also very gratifying to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss win the best pop vocal by a duo or group award for "Rich Woman," and better still, record of the year for "Please Read THE Letter" (that's right, Natalie Cole, you got your definite articles mixed up) [EDIT: Raising Sand also won album of the year! This is truly the best news of all]. But as much as Chris Martin seems like a really cool, down to earth guy, I still haven't softened to his voice, nor do I ever enjoy hearing Jay Z appear with anybody (though he did make Martin sound comparatively amazing on their duet).

Worst of all was Katy Perry's overblown "I Kissed a Girl." The song wasn't subversive when it came out, and it's even sillier now that it's been given a Vegas-style send-up live on national TV. No subtlety in her vocal delivery either -- it's like being hit over the head with a hammer, and that's exactly how I feel right now.

Fortunately, there are bigger talents out there who have the class to take the good with the bad, which is exactly what New York indie Max Vernon did when he covered "I Kissed a Girl" last year as a piano-based semi-doo-wop number. Given the fact that lesbians seem to be somewhat less maligned in American society than gay men, Max's gender-bending cover achieves the subversion that Katy's rendition never had a chance to touch. Plus its execution is just way, way better in general. Somebody sign this guy!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Richard Marx, psychoanalyst

Aidin Vaziri interviewed mega-selling songwriter Richard Marx for a piece appearing in today's San Francisco Chronicle. Some food for thought from Mr. Right Here Waiting:

"People who are creative are not mentally right to begin with. For somebody to want 20,000 people to watch them every night, there's something not right about that."

Hmmm... I don't know, he could be on to something here. Granted, this was just a small bit from an interview that touched on other topics as well, but it was the bit that struck me as the most provocative. Read the full interview and discuss.