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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Two Concerts For The Price Of One!!
or trying to tidy up my backlog, so to speak

Okay, so I suck at time management. Since getting involved in this website thing of which I spoke here, spending the bulk of the week at the chiropractor's and generally trying to finish my 50,000 mile tune up on other bits of my body, I have been playing catch up with all other aspects of my life here in the blogosphere. Not that anyone has minded the radio silence.

I'm still entrenched in web work, my current project centering around editing a piece shot with Philip, the drummer which has turned into me trying to learn iMovie as a crash course. And by "crash", I mean full head-on collision of my rusty brain with the techno world. I'm wearing a figurative neck brace right now. I'm no dummy. I should be able to get this, right?

We'll see.

Anywho, I'm happy to report I've graduated to maintenance status in the land of Chiros, so I got that going for me at least.

That all windily said, I'm attempting to clean up my room of concert comings and goings before the next onslaught which starts tonight with a groovy Guster gig. Geo and I have been to so many great shows this year already with a long list of opportunities waiting in the wings including a possible double or triple shot of my main men, Old 97's.


So last week, The Decemberists rolled into town. Never having been to one of their shows before, I was looking forward to seeing what they'd cook up.

It was ... peculiar.

Not unentertaining, mind you, but peculiar. They're catalog is kind of all over the place and so was their show. They went from the REM-like pop of Calamity Song to epic Prog Rock of the Crane Wife 1-3 to some crazy, rambling operatic opus called The Bagman's Gambit featuring Sara Watkins on vocals to a more Country tune or two to a Carnie feeling ditty in which Colin Meloy took a stroll through the audience.

Local critic, Scott Mervis summed it up nicely in his review. "Judging by the albums alone, you might take him for an uppity, bookish character. You wouldn't expect him to come down from the stage during "The Chimbley Sweep," climb across the chairs and share someone's box of Sour Patch candy, throwing out pieces to the crowd. He also complimented our hospitality and "beautiful city" (he biked along the river in the afternoon) to the point where he apologized for "beating it into the ground."

I'm sorry I didn't record his journey from the beginning so you all could witness him catching Sour Patch Kids in his mouth. He ended the evening with the lovely June Hymn.

Am I glad I went. Yes. Would I go again. Meh. Not so sure. The songs I like are terrific, but the other stuff is too heavy in the jammy section for my taste. All in all, it was an interesting evening out with a friend...

Now compare that evening to the one last month with Canada's pleasantly pudgy, all-around nice guy, Ron Sexsmith**. First of all, he was playing at the uber fabulous Club Cafe. Sexsmith is a singer/songwriter who pens pop and country ballads (as well as some rockers) sung in his signature soothing voice. He's one of Geo's favorites. Sadly, Geo fell prey to the latest scourge plaguing his coworkers and was unable to join me that evening, but I recorded as much as possible without being too obnoxious. Okay. I was probably obnoxious. And stupid as it turns out.

At one point he asked for requests. Competing with others in the crowd, I yelled for our favorite, "Nothing Good". He perked up at my request and rejected the other losers, I mean patrons' suggestions to play mine, because, you know, I'm kind of a big deal. ;-)  I lunged for my camera, pressed record and...


I swear to God I pushed record. I was zooming in, panning and painfully restraining from singing along. Nothing. I was all excited to share this great live version as well as Ron's and my little exchange about me being special with Geo, but alas. I am a huge asshat.  Too bad because it was awesome. My friend, Sheila can back me up on that.

I did manage to get my head out of my ass long enough to record these beauties for my ever-lovin' Geo.

He IS adorably pudgy in his Canadian Western wear.
There are more videos from Ron Sexsmith on my ubiquitous YouTube Channel ri'chair.

That cleans up that mess, now on to the next show!!

**Side Note: The name "Sexsmith" sounds like he is a world renown expert on all things sex related. You'd expect him to be a drop-dead GORGEOUS, hunky love machine with rocking six-pack abs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Knowing Your Place 
or that which makes Pittsburghers special

Okay, so David Conrad is the quintessential local boy made good. He's starred in a couple of successful television series (Relativity, The Ghost Whisperer),  acted in numerous theatrical productions, lived all over the country and rubbed elbows with Hollywood notables, but he's never forgotten from whence he came. 
I've had the great pleasure of meeting him several times when he's graciously stopped by our little dog and pony morning show. He's smart. He's witty. He's extremely talented. He's a very good sport. He's got a tremendous work ethic. 
And Dude, he is GORGEOUS!!
Plus he loves his town. Our town. He is a Pittsburgher through and through. 
He's in our little hamlet regularly, starring in plays, lending his gravitas to raise money for charity or just hang with his buds. His father passed away recently and he found himself standing in front of his old homestead where he was greeted with typical Pittsburgh kindness. It inspired him to write this lovely piece illustrating what we Burghers have known all along. We're different here. Special. Our yinzer hearts are big and open.

This brought a tear to me eye... 

Local Dispatch: It's hardly polite to be outside Pittsburgh
Sunday, April 24, 2011
My dad died last month. This has nothing to do with that.
What I have to tell you is how I pulled up in front of my childhood home the day of the funeral and the woman who lives there now stepped outside, looked at me and said, "Are you OK?"
I said, "No, my dad died."
She tilted her head. "You used to live here?"
"Do you wanna come in? I'm just going down to the market, but no rush, come on in."
And she proceeded to let me walk around her home, asking if I needed anything, asking who had lived in what rooms, what doors to the porch we had used, and was my mother the one who planted the perennials, and how has it changed? All the time smiling and encouraging me to stop when I needed to, cry if I had to, she said,
"Please. Go upstairs. Which room was yours?"

My brother's very sick. He has cancer. He's now blind in one eye and has to live in the hospital one week a month. Every time Phil goes in there's a chance he won't come out. This has nothing really to do with that.
What I want to tell you is we played golf his last day before going into the third chemo round. A course in San Diego, out in an old olive grove that's now a casino. We signed in as a twosome, wanting to just spend the time together, but the course pairs you up with others if they need to. When we arrived at the first tee, there was a guy waiting for us.
"Hey I'm your third wheel, 21 handicap. Sorry"
"All good, we're serious amateurs."
"Where you from?"
There's that question I love so much. When we said "Pittsburgh," he gave the appropriate answer.
"Git 'aht!"
He's a doctor named Mike who grew up in McKeesport and lives with his family now in Lancaster, Pa.
Laughter, handshakes all around. Where'd you go to high school? ... What's your other brother's name? ... Oh, really, I worked at National Tube summers to pay for school. ... Etc, etc, et-Western Pa-cetera.
No carts. We walk. It was a good morning of golf.
Until the 10th hole. We'd stopped at the lunch shack after the ninth. Phil's working with one eye and compromised balance, so his game is nowhere near good. He's a little slow. But his short game's great and he putts like a champ.
We buy some hot dogs, Polish dogs actually, with Mike the MD saying, "I gotta get one of these since you're here."
Then a woman walks by us saying, without any eye contact or the slightest inclination of a greeting, "So you're letting us play through, yes?"
My brother laughs and says, " Would you like to play through, ma'am?"
She snorts -- still no eye contact, no pause, at her sarcastic best. "Uhm, yes."
So we let the four go by, no problem. They take their carts on the fairway, they play at a run -- they are filled with a lot of things, none of which is joy.
Then the twosome behind them, a couple, come rolling up at the 11th. My brother tops the ball.
"At least you got it past the ladies tee!" says the wife.
Mike steps up. Another golf cart comes rolling right to the edge of the grass. It's a younger couple -- three holes in front of us, I later learn -- and the man yells, "Get off the course!"
Now I may have gone to Kiski Prep, where I was taught some manners. I may have been raised in the church by my mother. I may have been shown at camp summer after summer that "love conquers all." But right then I didn't want "all" -- I just wanted some southern California suburban heads on a platter.
I start walking toward the younger duo.
"Excuse me," I hear behind me.
It's Mike, our third wheel, waving me off.
"Excuse me," he says to this well-kept pair. " I can prescribe something for that condition, because you need to chill the hell out."
"You don't play golf well enough to be on this course."
"This public course? Actually, we do, and see that guy, the bald one with the 7-inch scar?"
"Well, he's blind in one eye, has a cancer you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, the stamina of a emphysemic, and this could be the last 18 holes he ever plays."
It got quieter.
"Well, if there's nothing you want to add, I'm gonna go hit this ball. Dave, wanna join me?"

What this all has to do with is how damn decent Pittsburghers are compared to vast swaths of their countrymen. Call me prejudiced, call me an unreliable source; what I would call me is well-traveled.
It's the simple damn truth: You come from here, you learn to look people in the eye when you greet them. You learn to give them the benefit of the doubt till they screw up. You learn not to mouth off to people you don't know. You don't say crap about people's families. You hold doors open. You say "Hello" and "Thank you" to someone's face and "You're welcome" when it's needed.
It's just simple decency, and yet the more I move about this gigantic country, the more I see and feel it becoming the same nervous, overburdened, resentful gaggle of selfish golf cart drivers who can't feel anything but their own imaginary needs. It's a pity. And it's a shame.
And it's great to come home and have the door guy at the Fairmont Hotel smile at me at 3 in the morning and then laugh at me leaving my car keys in my jacket. He's got a job to do, he doesn't have to kiss my ass to do it -- he treats me like an equal.
It's great to have a conversation with the waitress at the Original Fish Market, who tells me I'm way off about movies and need to watch this list she's about to give me.
It's great to sit in a cab with a guy who knows more about European history and theology than a Ph.D., but who shares it with me like it's a gift we've both been given.
And it's great to walk out of my childhood home in the late winter sun and have a woman I just met tell me how happy she is I just slowed her day down by an hour.
My father used to tell me something I hated, something that his father had told him.
"Know your place."
And I'd rail about how controlling and meek and subvervient that sounded. And in some ways yes it is, but there are times, more and more of them these days, when I hear his voice: when I'm complaining to a person who's not responsible for their bosses' mistakes; when I'm talking over someone older and more experienced; when I rush to get into a line in front of just that one extra person.
Then I catch myself and say, "Come on, Dave, know your place here."
Know what you're doing, honestly. Know where you work best in a situation, and who you can serve. Know where you're from. Know your "place."
Me? My place is Pittsburgh.

First published on April 24, 2011 at 12:00 am

Right on, Brother! Well said.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Shuffling off to ... Rochester?
or taking 90 to 97's

Okay, so to quote my favorite band, I have to come clean.

Last September my friend, Stephanie and I were asked to contribute content to the newly revamped Old 97's website by none other than the lovely blue-eyed one himself, the divine Rhett Miller.

Shut. Up.

I know, right? I don't really understand how this happened, but now we write blurbs for their web. It's been fun, frustrating, confusing, time-consuming, but mainly it's been an honor. It's also been for free.

Over the past six months, Steph and I have been feeling our way through, trying to figure out what is expected of us. Overthinking it, of course, because bottom line is we're fans writing for fans. It's that simple. There isn't much interaction with the band members except for an occasional questionnaire via email. We mainly share articles, video interviews, fun fan photos, sometimes write reviews of shows we've attended. Not very glamorous, but still kind of cool. Seriously cool. I'll ride this pony until it drops or bucks me off into the sagebrush.

When Steph and I decided to travel to Rochester for an Old 97's show, we tossed out the idea of taping Philip, the drummer and lesser known of the band members, demonstrating his signature 97's sound. He graciously agreed and so we were invited to soundcheck.

Baby's First Soundcheck notes:

1. Venues are really REALLY effing cold when they're empty.
2. Fine tuning levels is tedious and sometimes ear piercingly loud.
3. Sometimes you're treated to a run through of unreleased songs (I'm a Trainwreck and No Simple Machine) from forthcoming albums.


Waiting for the other bands to finish checking, we had the rare opportunity to speak at length with Philip and Ken until which time we could sneak back onstage to tape Philip being... Philip. After almost falling off a teetering tower of blistering doom, (spaz alert!), I ended up getting some terrific footage which I have yet to edit and post. But I will get to it next week.


Swear to God.

We also were "listed", which we learned means we get to go backstage. Eeeeee!

A few observations about Rochester:

1. They have that SNL, Mrs. Lubner long A accent thing going on. (sorry about the advert)

2. It's tough to take anyone in authority seriously when they're speaking in that friendly Mrs. Lubner-ese accent. Case in point, I made an unintentional illegal left after passing up the hotel and was subsequently pulled over by Barney Fife, I mean an officer. When he leaned in my window and said "you could have been T-boned", I almost lost it. Would not have been a good thing.

3. The above goes for big, burly bouncers, too.

God bless them. They're just so daaarn polite. Almost Canadian.

Anywho, back to the show...

So not being a musician, you imagine artists have a pre-show ritual of some sort similar to athletes who go through the same superstitious actions before every game. No so much with the members of Old 97's. Everyone was just sort of milling around, yakking, fixing a drink. Suddenly someone sticks his head in the door, announces "two minutes" and they all grab their glass and casually stroll out the door to do their thing.

And their thing that night was UNBELIEVABLE!!

They hit the stage with a fire in their souls. They were full-throttle from the opening chord of The Grand Theatre through the last sweat-drenched strum of Time Bomb two hours later.

In between they had the packed house in the palm of their collective hands, singing loudly along to old and new favorites, screaming full-force with Rhett to the refrain of Roller Skate Skinny and Big Brown Eyes' "YEAH!" There was even a group of delightful hipster doofy wildly pogo-dancing next to me by the end of the evening. Plus Rhett called an audible and we were treated to the never-before played song from Volume 2, "No Simple Machine" they rehearsed at Soundcheck.

There were some quieter moments when they played the lovely Salome and Murry sang Valentine at the Encore break. Hey, even these rock Gawds have to catch there breath once in a while.

Salome with dreamy eye contact goodness. *swoon*

A little role reversal between Murry and Rhett during the beautiful Valentine.

I finally got to hear the amusing story behind Waylon Jennings vs the word elixir from The Other Shoe.

The unending energy of this show rivaled their epic Bowery gig last December, which I wrote about over at the website here. I realize these videos don't accurately convey the power behind this show, but I consciously chose to sing and dance with all my Elaine Benis abandon for the face melting and guitar shredding.

By the time Ken's last chord of Time Bomb echoed through the hall, we were all a sweaty, hoarse, euphoric bunch of happy campers.

Rochester brought the love for Old 97's. Seriously. Rochester.

Who knew.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In Which My Boys of Winter March Forth Without Their Captain

Holy CRAP!!

My beloved Penguins have managed to finish out the second half of the season with a playoff berth AND home ice advantage, all without their top two players.

That is HUGE!!! Like super-colossal huge. Like Godzilla-sized huge!

No shit.

The luscious-lipped, uber talented Sidney Crosby has been out of action since a wicked one-two head slam which has left him with a frightening massive concussion that could have ended his young career just as it was really starting to cook. I'm happy to report he has been skating with the team during practices, but still not allowed any contact.

Number two man, Malkin, has been gone for months after an ACL injury resulting in surgery. Geno won't be back until next year. Sid probably won't see any ice time during this post season either.

Both leaders missing, and yet those young men have stepped up to the challenge. It has been so freaking exciting! Seriously, you can't peg who's going to be the top scorer from one game to the next. I'm in an online Pens tourney and I have to tell you, it's damn difficult to pick your team because there's no predicting who'll stuff the biscuit in the net.

Last night's heros were Tyler Kennedy (who's picked up the high-scorer baton lately) and Aaron Asham, putting the Pens in the lead for two periods.
TK celebrating Goal #1

But the true hero of last night's game was former Dallas Stars (boo), James Neal.
Double OT victory pile up
James Neal is in there somewhere

He's been struggling to rack up points during regulation play, but he has come through for us in OT more than once. Last night he pulled off this blind-sighted beauty to give the Pens a 3-1 lead in the series against Tampa.

Thank you Mr. Shero for what has turned out to be a brilliant trade.

One of the many things I appreciate about hockey and hockey players is their genuine joy for the success of their peers. Who's the first person to congratulate the team after this double OT victory? Sid.

Check out the post-game reception here.

P.S.: Our coach, Dan Bylsma is made of awesomesauce.

Me and Yoko
visions in white
Youngsters sporting their playoff beards

My friend Yoko and I got to go to game one. It was white-out night meaning everyone was asked to wear white and given white rally towels to wave during the game.

It's a simple idea this white out thing, but it's so successful at making everyone feel as one unit, reveling in our singularity of support for this team of working-class guys who never EVER disappoint.

My boys managed a 3-0 shut out, ending on an empty netter.


The game was so exciting, we ignored our sushi until the period break.

Yes. You read correctly.

We ate sushi.

At the arena.

Consol is not your father's arena. No siree, Bob.

Besides the amazing victory, there was another stirring moment. National Guardsman, Sgt. Jim Timney had the honor of singing the National Anthem. Nothing special about that really. Servicemen sing the Anthem all the time. What made this extraordinary was it was the first time I have personally witnessed the entire crowd singing aloud. At one point the Sargent held out the microphone. It made me tear up to hear all of those voices singing together. I'm tearing up now.

I am a ginormous SAP.

Admit it. You're tearing up, too, right? RIGHT?

The Pens are back in the Burgh for game five on Saturday. God I love these guys!!

Pull out that rally flag, Baby!