Monday, September 28, 2009

Members of The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir In Serious Van Accident

You may have read on Jim DeRogatis's blog or elsewhere that all six members of Chicago's the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir were seriously injured last Thursday in a van accident on I-65 while heading to a concert in Cincinnati. Bass player Mark Yoshizumi is still in the hospital. When I lived in Chicago I caught these guys a few times at Schubas and always had a blast at their energetic and just all around fun shows. In light of presumed hefty medical bills, their label Bloodshot Records has set up a PayPal account if you wish to make a donation. Or, go to iTunes and buy one of their albums. I highly recommend their latest ...And the Horse You Rode In On.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How Do You Determine A Concert's Worth?

We are currently living in times of a questionable economy, and with that questionable economy, most people take an extra second to evaluate certain spending decisions. I was in this position yesterday when I got online with the purpose of buying tickets to see the Pixies at DAR Constitution Hall on November 30. A tour which, by the way, is being promoted as a Doolittle tour. (This information will become more important later.) Because of the band and venue, I knew tickets would be somewhat expensive. I was right, through Ticketmaster, a singular ticket came in at $53.50 before any added charges. This probably means we are talking about at least a $70 price tag once all of the goggily-gook is piled on. (Before I go any further, this is not meant and will not turn into some rant on the Pixies or Ticketmaster for the presumed $70 ticket. )

Once I saw how much tickets were, the fascinating world of economics started bouncing around my brain. Should I buy a ticket? Is $70 worth what I will be getting in return? Figuring there are plenty of people facing similar decisions, before doing anything rash, I decided to close my browser and break it down to determine the best course of action. Assume for all intents and purposes that I am your average person. I don't make a ton of money, but I make enough where I could spend $70 on a ticket if I really wanted to.

Obviously to pay $70 to see a band, you have to like that band. Well, I like the Pixies. Now, they're not necessarily my favorite band, and I wasn't raised on their music. But I do like them enough to play them semi-regularly, and usually loud enough to earn the disdainful glare that my neighbor down the hall gives me when I see her in the building. (Is it possibly to play the Pixies soft? Of course not.) I own four of their albums. Strike that, I own three of their albums (Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Trompe Le Monde), with the fourth being a greatest hits compilation that I found for $1. I could have sworn I had Bossanova somewhere but after rummaging through my music collection, it has come to my attention that I don't. Anyway, I like all of these albums and I love Doolittle. Love it. It gets the most play of their stuff, and if I were to ever make a collection of my 50 favorite songs of all time (for all of our sakes, let's hope I don't), "Debaser" would probably make the cut. So, I certainly like the Pixies enough to satisfy this particular category, and the fact that they will be playing most or all of Doolittle makes the show even more compelling.

But there are still more issues to consider. Seventy bucks does not grow on cherry blossom trees. How about the venue? Well, I have seen two concerts at DAR Constitution Hall (My Morning Jacket, Smashing Pumpkins) and enjoyed myself both times. It is a very comfortable place and has pretty decent sound. I can not fathom any reason why this particular time would be different. Also, getting there and back is nothing more than a nice, brisk walk.

(Quick side story: I lived in Dayton, Ohio, for three years and one of my good friends lived in a nice house in a nice, quiet neighborhood. Every so often, we would spend a weekend on his porch shooting the breeze and drinking a beer. One of his next-door neighbors was a nice unassuming woman who would pass by and say hello while she was walking her dog, or maintaining her garden. This woman we later found out was Kim Deal. I throw this in here because I love this story. My friend lived next door to a person who played bass for a band that I really liked and we never put two-and-two together probably because we've grown accustomed to assuming that rock stars don't spend their weekends planting flowers.)

Two big questions out of the way and the only drawback seems to be the ticket cost. But I should probably mention that I can't really think of an acquaintance in DC that would be interested in tagging along. If I go, I will probably be by myself. Not a huge deal, in fact, I am kind of an old hand at this.

Also, if my calculations are correct, November 30th is a Monday, which means I will have to work the following day. That sucks, but that also means I will probably purchase one less beer than I normally would. (Depending on the length of a show, I would normally purchase anywhere from two to four beers, give or take a substitute rum and Coke if I am feeling tired.) If I recall, drinks are in the $6-7 range. Subtract that from the ticket cost and now we're looking at around $63. Well, now I'm thinking, because the only other venue I could imagine the Pixies playing in town would be the 9:30 Club. Suppose they were playing there instead of DAR Constitution Hall. I would bus it there, and mostly likely try and cab it back (read the last paragraph of the previous post as to why). Being that it's not too far, the cab would probably cost $6-7, including tip. Not forgetting the $1.10 bus fare, bump the cab fare off the price, and all of a sudden, this ticket is in the $56 range just for the sheer reason that it's at DAR, and I can walk home and feel comfortable that no one is going to go all Avon Barksdale on me.

See, this is kind of fun, isn't it?

Another thing I considered was using my connections to somehow try and circumvent the price of the ticket, but then I remembered that I don't really have any connections. Maybe I could email someone in the Pixies camp to try and set up an interview or a show review in a lame attempt to get on the list. But I can't do that. For one, the chances of landing an interview with someone from the Pixies would probably be slim to none. And second, while I would love to talk with someone from the Pixies, it would never be so I could get into a show for free. That goes for any band. No, if I'm going to this show, this ticket is going to have to be purchased.

I honestly started writing this without being completely sure what I was going to do, or where this post was headed. But about five minutes ago, something dawned on me and I think it's going to be the ultimate decider in what my final decision will be. I have never seen the Pixies, and this is huge. It's not as if the Pixies have countless tours left in them. When it comes to seeing them, we are probably all playing with house money at this point. And with that, I keep thinking back to January 2007 when I had the opportunity to purchase a ticket to see the Bears play the Seahawks in the NFL Playoffs during the Bears' march to the Super Bowl. After being conflicted, I said to hell with it, and paid an obscene amount that I really couldn't afford at the time. And you know what, it ended up being totally worth it. (I'm not going to print how much the ticket cost to save a lecture in case my mom reads this.) When I look back at it now, I don't think about how much the ticket was, I think about how great of a time I had. And while this concert might not have the flair of a game-winning Robbie Gould field goal, it certainly has potential to be great. And a few years from now, will I think about how much the ticket cost, or how great it was to see the Pixies? I can almost guarantee and am hoping it will be the latter, which is why I am going to buy a ticket. Right now.

UPDATE: Tickets are gone. See what happens when you spend too much time thinking?


Monday, September 14, 2009

8 Random (And Mostly) Musical Observations For Absolutely No Reason At All

1. When did Kurt Cobain become the new Prophet Muhammad in that it's a sin to duplicate his likeness on screen? So he's in the new Guitar Hero and he can oddly sing a Bon Jovi song. Who cares. Well, it looks like Courtney Loves does. She has also lost her mind, because she clearly signed over the rights to Activision, makers of Guitar Hero, for them to use Cobain. How do I (and everyone else) know this? Because since she controls his estate, she would be the only one that would have the right to do this in the first place. Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic aren't behaving much better, and are apparently demanding that Activision "relock" Cobain's character so he can't sing other artist's songs. Again, I can't find a part of my brain that thinks they should even care. If I could unlock George Clinton on NBA Jam on my old Super Nintendo and dunk the ball from half court, then surely it won't kill Kurt Cobain to belt out "Livin on a Prayer" every now and then. As an old Nirvana fan, the only thing that ever bothered me about Kurt Cobain was that he was always presented, or seemed to present himself, way too serious and completely humorless even though I'm sure he wasn't. But we should all thank Love and the surviving Nirvana members for keeping this myth alive.

2. I did not watch the MTV Video Music Awards the other night because the Bears' game was on and because it was the MTV Video Music Awards, but I did stumble across this fantastic picture of Joe Jackson (Michael's dad, not the guy who helped throw a World Series back in 1919 and didn't like wearing shoes) on the red carpet. If you ever wondered what a hybrid of Don Vito Corleone and Little Richard would look like after said hybrid decided to become a pimp, well, there you go. (And you know Jackson must look pretty ridiculous, when he looks even more ridiculous than his ridiculous looking date.) And speaking of the VMAs...

3. ...I love Kanye West, but it's getting harder and harder to defend him. At least his apology on that new Jay Leno show seemed sincere. And, the performance that followed with Jay-Z and Rhianna was pretty great, too.

4. Remember that Seinfeld episode with the Three Tenors where they kept referring to José Carreras as "the other guy?" I think the same thing is starting to happen with Monsters of Folk. I recently overheard someone telling their friend about this group on the bus. And he described them as Jim James, Conor Oberst, M. Ward, and "some other guy." Well, "some other guy" is actually Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis. (Please don't think I'm trying to cop a snobby attitude, I actually had to look it up myself. But now that we all know his name, let's keep calling him "some other guy." I like that much better, don't you?)

5. If you're looking to start an argument with a group of friends, just send them the latest Paul Shirley column where he pretty much calls the Beatles' music average and boring, while at the same time paying the requisite respect to their influence and legacy. Suffice to say, I loved it. And speaking of which...

6. ...this idea of reviewing the Beatles entire recently reissued catalog is stupid. I know both Paste and Pitchfork have done this. I'm sure others have as well, but this is pretty much akin to watching The Godfather and then writing a review blathering on about how good it is. Thanks, but billions of people have already beat you to the punch.

7. The 9:30 Club sucks. Not the venue itself, but the actual process of trying to buy tickets from their website, which works about as well as the Bears' fake punt the other night. The layout is just generally confusing, the system never remembers your password so you're forced to sign up for a new account with each purchase, and they add so many extra fees that it almost makes you want to swear off live music. The other day I purchased tickets for a Built To Spill show in October. The entire process seemed to take about half an hour, and to top it off, they charge $4 to mail you the tickets. And I'm not talking about having the tickets sent express or anything, I'm talking about the regular mail. I don't know how much stamps cost on their side of town, but over here it's still 43 (44?) cents.

8. Backing up a few months, over 4th of July weekend I attended a birthday party for one of my friends. He's Polish and had traveled to Maryland that day to stack up on some "fine" Polish vodka. We consumed a lot of it. This will come into play later. Ever the playlist dictator, as the evening went along, I took control of his iPod and with his permission implemented myself as dj. Not necessarily an easy task when you're dealing with a music catalog that is 90% Polish. But I found a few party favorites and cranked them out and everyone had a good time. One of the songs I played was "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins. As the evening wound down, and 3am had passed, I decided to walk about 1.5 miles home rather than take a cab. (Stupid.) I also decided to listen to my iPod while making the journey. (Very stupid.) And, I decided to take side streets through a dodgy neighborhood so the street noise from the main roads wouldn't drown out my music. (So incredibly stupid, it's nearly beyond comprehension.) Still having "1979" in my head, I decided to play Side 1 of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness which I had not listened to in quite some time. While listening to Track 13, "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans," I was reminded of a mid-October day in 1995 when I saw this band at the Madison Theater in Peoria, Illinois, just before Mellon Collie was released. They opened with this song, and I had obviously never heard it before, but I remember thinking it was just incredible. (Looking back, the song is good but I would hardly call it incredible.) As I was recalling this memory, a man appeared from nowhere, lunged at me, and I before I knew it, I was on the ground being robbed at gunpoint. Wallet, phone, iPod...gone. (I really hope that guy liked $4, crappy phones, and rock music because that's what he got.) Nevertheless, I can't help but laugh to think that the same "incredible" song back in 1995 would one day serve as the soundtrack for a gun being pointed in my face. Why I even put myself in that situation is beyond me, but I'd prefer to place the blame on my foolish love for music and the Polish vodka.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Killers--Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, Maryland

(Everyone hates Ticketmaster and I am usually no exception. But I am going to give credit where credit is due. I had ordered two tickets to see the Killers earlier this week at Merriweather Post Pavilion, which is located about 25 miles north of my apartment in Columbia, Maryland. Come three days before the show, I still did not have any tickets even though they had been ordered way far in advanced. I did not have the tickets because they were lost in the mail, along with a few other semi-important things that I needed. Upon calling the number that was attached to my confirmation email, I was immediately connected (without having to listen to even a single recording) to an overtly friendly and helpful woman who, in less than five minutes, saved the day with little questions asked and issued me two new tickets. All I had to do was show up at the will call window with photo identification and the credit card that I used to purchase the tickets. It was almost too easy. One might even call it an exercise in "convenience." And a lesser company would probably charge for such a...oh, shit...nevermind.)

Anyway, I have been to plenty of outdoor music festivals in recent years, but had not been to one of these "cookie-cutter" outdoor amphitheaters like Merriweather Post Pavilion in probably ten years. But only the parking and seating situation at Merriweather is generic. The rest of it feels like a zoo. Literally. Yes, there are a lot of people, but there are even more trees that turn the surrounding area into a forest that is disturbed only by a nice stream of water, and a trail that leads to the venue. There are wooden signs nailed all along the campus trail that contain useful information for a Merriweather novice like myself. For instance, I learned in 1971 a "little known" Led Zeppelin opened for the Who at this very venue. That's a fun fact, but I had a feeling they were using the words "little known" a bit liberally. I was right. When I got home I checked Zeppelin's discography and learned that 1971 was the year they released their commercially celebrated untitled fourth album. This means they already had their self-titled debut, II, and III under their belt. Surely they were pretty well-known by this point, right? Or who knows, maybe most people left that show thinking, "Wow, the Who were great, but what was the name of that loud opening band again? And was that Janis Joplin singing? I thought she was dead!"

We had lawn seats, and found a decent spot in shallow right-center field while opening act Wolfmother played. If you're unfamiliar with Wolfmother, just think Dragonforce meets the fictional band Stillwater from Almost Famous. Confused? Hey, me too. But nevermind that, one great thing about Merriweather are the large screens affixed around the venue for the viewing pleasure of those in the lawn. They are almost so crisp and clear that you feel guilty if you catch yourself gazing at them instead of the stage, and you wonder if paying decent money just to see something that you could have watched at home on television was a stupid choice, but then you realize such an event isn't televised in the first place anyway, and it dawns on you that the last five minutes spent wondering whether staring at the screens cheapened the experience was a complete waste. (This thought sequence really did play out in my mind. I suck.)

Another great thing about the video screens was between bands they displayed a reel of different texts that audience members were sending to a number finely displayed on the screen. Most were about the Killers (ex: "r we human?"), although one was a proposal (ex: "jen will u marry me? i luv u. chris") which seemed to lead to a series of mock proposals. I decided to get in on the action. I won't repeat what I sent but let's just say it was not posted. Even worse, I quickly got a text back that stated I had somehow agreed to be notified of all Merriweather events. Just what I needed. This better not be like the time last summer when I signed up to be notified via text of Barack Obama's running mate, only to be inundated for the next three months at all hours of the day with mindless text "alerts" and borderline spam.

By the time the Killers took the stage it was dark, and we were sitting motionless on a blanket not buying beer. (Beer was in the range of $8 which explains why everyone was tailgating in the parking lot before the show.) The reaction to everyone in my vicinity when the band did finally emerge was almost astonishing. I saw friends hugging, girls immediately dancing. People just love this band. And the Killers crowd is much different than what I'm used to. I saw twelve-year-olds with their parents (probably why they wouldn't show my text), couples in their late 40s, pretty much all walks of life. I could have been at a baseball game and I would not have been able to tell the difference. Remember with the release of Sam's Town when it seemed the Killers had set out to become the biggest band in America? Well, I think they did it.

Also, I really like this band. A small fraction of their appeal is the contrarian nature of their bravado when compared to most bands I listen to. In the Lollapalooza post I wrote that I began to like the Killers as soon as everyone else decided they were no longer cool. This might not be entirely accurate. For starters, I am not sure those that dislike the Killers ever thought they were cool. They were always a part of the mainstream, even before Hot Fuss blew up. In my world, they first took the form of a guilty pleasure. But after hearing "Read My Mind" from Sam's Town and being unable to remove it from my head, I finally pushed all of my chips to the center of the table and decided I was all in. And I do respect the fact that the Killers welcome the idea of mass appeal at the possible expense of street-cred. But as stated, mostly I like their songs. There just aren't many bands with the lifespan of only three albums with this many hits.

Even their songs that I wouldn't consider "hits" sound like hits in concert. For example, they opened with "Joy Ride" from their latest Day & Age, which is a song I have never cared for, but I was completely sold with the disco-esque bassline and lead singer Brandon Flowers hitting every note with vocal chords that I wasn't even aware he had. And he's a great frontman, almost like a modern day Mick Jagger the way he struts around stage and owns the crowd. He's very pleased with himself and is certainly cocky, but there is a tongue-in-cheek element involved that makes it work.

As for the rest of the set, if there is a Killers song that you like, they probably played it. A few that left an impression were "Somebody Told Me," and their latest hit "Human," which contains the unanswerable question "Are we human/or are we dancer?" Umm, yes? You know, no one really has any clue what that lyric means, but if you listen to the song more than three times there is no reason to care because you will realize that the song is awesome. (And the fact that so many people still talk about that lyric makes it brilliant in my book.)

Before the encore, they dusted off staples "Mr. Brightside" and "All These Things That I've Done," the latter of which included the appropriate "I got soul/but I'm not a soldier" sing-along from the entire crowd before the band sauntered off stage. They returned and played "Believe Me Natalie" which, if I recall, included pyrotechnics that from my vantage point seemed to be raining down on top of drummer Ronnie Vannucci. Subtle, the Killers are not, and probably never will be. Flowers then informed the crowd that they were going to play their final song as hard as they possibly could, and launched into "When You Were Young." This was my first time seeing the Killers so I was forced to take Flowers's word for it, but I would be shocked if what he said was disingenuous. That song is nearly a victim of its own grandiosity-it will never be able to be anything other than a closer.

Like any good outdoor amphitheater, leaving Merriweather was complete hell as cars were stuck at a stand-still in the parking lot for a good hour. At one point I asked one of the girls I was with, "Can you tell if any cars are moving, or are we dancer?" (I was the only one that thought this was hilarious.) The cars were not even thinking of moving, so we were most certainly dancer. But had it not been for the accommodating people at Ticketmaster, we would have been nothing at all.

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