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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Piloting Blind On A School Night
or Friday night music club

Okay, so it seems I'm always searching for new bands to add to my arsenal of iTunes. I'm generally a lyrics lover, but sometimes a band's sound strikes me, it's feel touching a part of my psyche. Fortunately for me, Pittsburgh has one of the finest public radio stations (WYEP) whose staff are adept at finding up and coming indie acts.

Several years ago, they started playing an ethereal band out of Oregon named Blind Pilot whose melodic nature struck a chord with me. They came into some notoriety for their 2008 bicycle tour in which they literally rode bikes to their gigs from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California, carting their gear in special bike trailers they fashioned themselves. I was excited to see them at Mr. Small's. Their music is light and rhythmic...and, as it turns out, not very varied. In fact, outside of the handful of semi-hits, it was downright monotonous. So much so, that we actually left early.

No shit.

In hindsight, the painfully looooooong set up break should have been a tip off. The delay went on for days. I am not even kidding. Hey, I'm old now. I don't have enough years left to waste that kind of time waiting for young hipsters to get their shit together backstage only to bore me to tears for forty minutes. All I can say is someone better have been puking his guts out or had explosive diarrhea to justify that wait.

The array of instruments on stage added an element of interest (banjo, harmonium, xylophone, stand-up bass, trumpet), but aside from a couple of energetic songs, the eclectic grouping of musical gadgetry did nothing to make this school night adventure sleep-deprivation worthy.

I realize by leaving early, we probably missed their best stuff, but c'mon! You gotta throw us a bone or two at the beginning, man! They weren't awful. They were just... boring, tedious, spiritless (insert your favorite adjective here). Even their stage presence was a flat line.


Then to top it off, their cover was of Gillian Welsh's wretched Miss Ohio. ACK!!

This is one of the better songs. At least I got the opportunity to play with my 8 MM app on Xpro setting.

The pleasant surprise of the evening was the opening act, The Barr Brothers, a side project of the band The Slip. A fact learned from the very enthusiastic fan standing next to us. I LOVE when fans evangelize for their favorite bands. The kid next to us could not wait to tell us all about them and his devotion to them. His entire face lit up when he spoke of the greatness of the "best drummer EVER". He kept insisting my concert cohort, Mary Ann (who is diminutive) stand in front of him so she wouldn't miss any of the performance.

So cute. I totally get his desire to witness. Um... hello. How many posts on here are devoted to all things Old 97's/Rhett Miller?

Besides a harp and mandolin, the drummer had an peculiar assortment of percussion instruments: metal smoker, Indonesian wood chime... But the oddest thing of the evening was the lead brother running his finger along a deliberately loose guitar string which I neglected to film, natch.

By the way, for anyone attending, The Barr Brothers will be at SXSW this year. They'd be worth an afternoon listen.

Again, got to play with my new app, this time on 70s setting.

Oh well. Not the most riveting musical evening I've ever spent, but still a welcomed night out with a good friend just the same. Plus there was liquor, so there's that. There are three more shows on the horizon: The Kooks, Rhett Miller solo and Ingrid Michaelson. I KNOW the middle one will go way beyond expectation. I have high hopes for the other two. Now if we could schedule a Francis fix, life would be golden.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Which Another Musical Legend Comes To An Untimely End

When news broke yesterday of the death of Whitney Houston at age 48, my first reaction was "Holy Shit!" I was shocked. Not the news I expected to hear, and yet somehow not completely unexpected news either.

The daughter of gospel's Cissy Houston, Whitney came out of nowhere and blew everybody away with her enormous natural talent. She had "IT" in abundance. Long, lithe, drop-dead gorgeous, Houston broke onto the music scene back in 1985 after meeting her mentor, Clive Davis, gracing the world with the power of her dazzling, impeccable voice. A true gift from the Gods.

I submit as evidence this isolated track of her hit, How Will I Know.

She hit the ground running with hit after hit, amassing accolades and awards faster than the female species amasses shoes. Her musical triumphs followed by movie star success cemented her status as Diva. She was unstoppable. Who can ever forget her incredible performance of the Star Spangled Banner before the 1991 Super Bowl. The most ridiculously difficult anthem to sing, and yet Houston delivered it effortlessly.

She was on top of the world.

Then in the 1992 she married Bobby Brown... and her world started to implode. Her life became a train wreck of drug abuse and domestic strife all played out in the public eye. She became a joke, a has-been, a foot note of her former life.

It's heartbreaking how one decision in ones life can break it at the knees, bringing about total ruination. Her life was that of Greek Tragedy, fallen by misplaced loyalty, addiction and hubris. A sad ending for someone whose talent transcended the paradigm.

NPR's Ann Powers expresses it perfectly.

That Houston died mere steps from that stage, only to be discovered by her bodyguard in one of the thousand hotel rooms where she'd laid her head, is strange poetry. I've long thought that someone should write an opera about this brash, brilliant woman, born a child of soul and raised to womanhood within the heart of crossover pop. She broke hearts, and was herself broken. She suffered, but not in her music, which even at its saddest was grounded in a sense of dignity and the determination to transcend. She defined a style that so many would adopt, yet her talent was unique.

She was an original with a crazy, boat load of talent, who sadly pissed it away. We all make choices in our lives. I hope she was beginning to make wise ones in hers. We'll never know. What we do know is, man... she had an amazing set of pipes.

You can read Ann Powers post in its entirety here.

In Which The Master Coverer Covers A Master

(Okay, so you're going to have to bare with me as I share yet another accomplishment of the blue-eyed lovely one whose talent knows no bounds.)

Columbia Records has created a cover series entitled Old Ideas With New Friends enlisting musicians to share their renditions of their favorite Leonard Cohen songs. So far The Mountain Goats, Cold War Kids and Greg Duilli from Afghan Whigs have taken a turn at interpreting Cohen (posted on Consequence of Sound here).

This week was The Interpreter's turn.

I'm not a big Leonard Cohen fan. I don't care for his low, grumbly talk/sing style. Much like Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams, I appreciate the brilliance of his lyrical mastery, but I prefer his works interpreted through another's voice.

Rhett breaths new life and energy into Cohen's Classic, Tower of Song, setting it's painful resignation against a positive upbeat that blindly propels us along in classic Miller style.


Rhett Miller "Tower of Song" from Columbia Records on Vimeo.
Rhett Miller "Tower of Song" from Columbia Records on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

She Makes the Dough AND Gets The Glory 
or Canadian chanteuse, Kathleen Edwards rocks the South Side

(Holy CRAP! A post that's actually somewhat current. What the? What?!?)

Okay, so Saturday night Canada's rock 'n roll songbird, Kathleen Edwards pulled into town in a big black bus. This was to be Geo's and my first date night in a long time.

A date night? Are you kidding me?!? I was so excited!

Geo is alwaysAlwaysALWAYS my first choice for concert partner, but he is very discerning as for whom he ventures out of the confines of our abode. (is that correct grammar? maybe...maybe not. whatev. english is not my first language. that's my story.)


He was actually excited about seeing Ms. Edwards. We were going to make an evening of it. You know, dinner, drinks, maybe a little white guy dancing. But alas, Geo's indentured servitude played the trump card in the game of our social life in the shape of an unreasonable, high-maintenance client with no earthly clue of the meaning of DEADLINE. Consequently, my ever-lovin' has been working outrageously long hours the entire week. He works so hard. He needs a vacation, or at the very least a long weekend. Or maybe a visit from a skillful Thai escort.

I kid. I'm kidding. I'm a kidder.

There was a nice cross section of age groups in attendance. Ms. Edwards is only 34, but her appeal is universal. Her music is filled with life's pathos set to grinding guitar rifts with a complimentary smattering of quieter, introspective beauties. Her latest effort, Voyageur is, in her words, "filled with personal baggage of love and loss". A cathartic collection of tunes exorcising the demons from her recent divorce. But make no mistake, she is no shrinking flower crying in the corner. No way. She is in complete control, and she comes out to rock, BABY!

Saturday was my first time seeing Edwards perform. The thing that struck me was she's no waif. It's refreshing. She's a real girl with a big presence. When she took the stage, she started her show by saying, " Just because you're sitting down doesn't mean you have to be pussies." before launching into her latest hit, Empty Threat.

She is so badass.

The kind of chick you want to hang at the bar with, doing shooters, smoking cigars and telling trashy jokes. None of that pansy-assed, girlie shit from her.

Throughout the evening she playfully sparred with vocal audience members. At one point, she waxed on about the greatness of Sidney Crosby, getting on the good side of the audience by sympathizing with our agony over his continued health issues and calling him the embodiment of all that is good about hockey (she is Canadian after all. hockey is in her blood) before launching into I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory, punctuating her dedication with a "fuck you, Penguins."

See. Sooooooo badass! Ha Ha!

Edwards played nearly all of her current release and a few older gems to the appreciative gathering. The encore consisted of exactly one song. A cover of Big Star's September Gurls.

And the the covers streak continues.

Another great evening of live music in the Burgh worth the exhaustion at work the next morning. The only thing that could have made it better is if Geo was sitting next to me. He would have loved it. Thanks to my trusty gal-pal, Mary Ann-ski (aka, Betty) for subbing in the last minute.

You can pick up Kathleen's latest here.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

In Which I Celebrate Another Circle Around The Sun

Okay, so unless you're under 10, your birthday ends in a zero or you're barely on the living side of 100, birthdays are relatively insignificant. Personally I'm okay with the suspension of notice until the next big milestone roles around in eight years.

And that next one is a big ole beeyatch. Blerg.

That said, last Thursday was the anniversary of my birthing 5+ decades ago. If I'm not mistaken, 52 is the age where it becomes mandatory to use terms like davenport, liquefy all meals to drink from a straw and learn how to play Pinochle. But I digress...

Upon opening my world-weary, bloodshot eyes early that morning, I was humbled to find 40+ birthday greetings on both Facebook and Twitter. And they kept pouring in, tipping the scale at ... I don't really know the total because the number was so high I stopped counting.

I am genuinely overwhelmed by the shower of love and affection bestowed upon my wretched soul. (chokes back tears) I am truly touched...

And not just in the head, even though that is certainly a truth.

Anyway, the first treat of my narcissistic day of me was picking up my favorite ex-pat coworker, Jimmy McParkway from the airport. Young James has heeded the call of greener pastures in the form of Weekend Anchor/Morning Reporter for the Hearst affiliate in Bahston, Mass. He's doing extremely well and getting a well-deserved shot at making a name for himself. His absence still stings, but seriously, how can I be anything but thrilled for him.

Jimmy was my cohort in crimes of the senses, so naturally I had to do something completely juvenile when I picked him.
I'm classy, yo
i'm also 12

We had ample time to catch up while shoveling gobs of breakfast grub down our gullets at a quintessential Burgh joint, Eggs 'n At. When we took off our coats, we laughed out loud to find we both had Pens gear on. Oh, so Pittsburgh.

yinz goin' to the game?

Moving on...

Every year The Special K hosts a winter weekend event at a nearby ski resort known as Snow Blast. Normally the festivities begin on Friday. For years I've been wanting to go up for snow tubing and stay overnight, but the restraints of my current indentured servitude on Saturdays have always thwarted my desire to slide down a slope at break-neck speed, precariously perched upon an unsteerable, overinflated rubber donut with no visible means of stopping at will.

That's all kinds of fun right there, yo.

As the Fates would have it, the festival started on Thursday, the Saturday of my personal unconventional weekend AND my birthing day to boot! Finally, tubing with a couple hilarious girlfriends. Holla!!

As the Fates would also have it, blinding sheets of rain fell all day.

All. Frelling. DAY.

No tubing for you. One year.

The Fates are dicks.

Either that or they are sincerely concerned I'll wipe out so magnificently, my brittle femur will snap in two, in essence declaring me old and feeble. See what I mean? Dicks.

Although disappointed, that development didn't put a damper on the partay. Oh no, my friend. The kibosh may have been on the sledding, but we did what any respectable, red-blooded American girls would do. We cracked open a cold one or three.

Yes, there was drinking.

snow boots and
swimming suits

Yes, there was snacking. Yes, there was jumping on the bed.
blur via wine goggles
Yes, there was the inebriated commandeering of noodles from innocent, unsuspecting youth in the pool. Yes, there was drunk-white-chick-dancing.

And no, there are no photos of that.

Thank the baby Jesus.

Burnett and me, modeling sophisticated head wear

me and beets toughing out the elements

But most importantly, there was hysterical laughter, camaraderie and unfiltered fun. What more can you ask for, right? Seriously. I haven't laughed that hard since...well, January 5th.

doctor prescribed dark chocolate cake and Merlot
it's good for the heart
that's my story
shut up

Plus I got this kick-ass cake and some really great swag. Geo got me a couple of amazing lens for the iPhone along with this adorbs sock monkey beanie.

ain't I just adorable?
Then when I got home, I found a box of the MOST AMAZING individually wrapped brownies called Fairytale brownies from my buddy, Marcy Anne. Raspberry, cream cheese, walnut, pecan, peanut butter, mint...

OHMIGAWD! To. Die. For. I'm salivating like Pavlov's dog just thinking about them.


It was a really great birthday.

I cannot thank my friends enough for the cards, the electronic messages, for the joy. I am thankful for all of these goofballs in my life. I can't imagine spinning around the sun, clinging to this crazy blue planet without each and every one of them. From the bottom of my pointy little heart, I thank you all for a tremendous celebration of the anniversary of my hatching.

Love ya! * MUAH!*

But seriously, next year I'm strapping on the bubble wrap and snow/ice tubing, DAMMIT!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

In Which Don Cornelius Makes His Last Stop On The Soul Train 

Okay, so way back in the stone age, circa 1970, a Chicago DJ with a voice as lush as velvet launched the iconic, weekly music/dance show, Soul Train. Every week Cornelius would spin the latest and greatest in the soul genre, as well as feature live performances from up and coming notables such as Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and the O'Jays. 

His was the cool cousin to Dick Clark's white-bread, American Bandstand. There was nothing wrong with AB. It was a fun dance party, but once Soul Train hit the airwaves, it was all I wanted to watch. It was hip and happening and had THE BEST dancers strutting down the train line. 

That line dance at the end was my absolute favorite part of the entire show. I learned how to dance by watching those couples work their magnificent moves across the studio in their outrageous tight pants, platforms and elephant bell bottoms. Bad Luck by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (featuring Theodore Pendergast) was da bomb, yo! That song shot me out of my chair and into embarrassing-white-chick-dance-mode faster than anything. I waited for it each week. I still have the urge to jump up when I hear that tune. Although now, you know, I might break a hip.

OHMIGODJESUS! Seriously. They wore the most crazy, fab 70s outfits! And how about that one dude's fro? Epic mass. Extra points for that one, my friend.  

The New Yorker columnist, Ben Greenman spoke eloquently of the Don Cornelius legacy here. It's well worth the read and gives a bit of the back story. 

I was saddened to read The Don took his own life today. It's difficult to understand how someone comes to the conclusion that he would be better off dead. Life and death are full of mysteries.

One thing is for certain, Mr. Cool will always inhabit a special spot in my heart for introducing the unfettered joy of Soul music to a shy, awkward, white girl and inspiring her to get up and busta move with abandon every Saturday afternoon. I will be forever grateful to you for that.

You were the epitome of smooth, Sir.

We wish you Love, Peace and Soul.