Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rainer Maria review

Catastrophe Keeps Us Together
Grunion Records

I was so far behind on this band, that when I became a fan of Rainer Maria, it was during not their first, not their second, but their third wave of popularity. It was about a year ago, when I saw them at CafĂ© Du Nord, which was both my first time hearing their music, and my first time eating Du Nord’s super-crispy Kennebec fries with chili ketchup and garlic aioli. Awesome night.

In the intervening year, I’ve developed a medium-sized obsession – somewhere between my consuming devotion to the Magnetic Fields and my vague infatuation with MF Doom. They’re from Wisconsin…which is nice. Not because they have a particularly Midwestern flavor, but because they don’t have the permeating (and infuriating) aura of being from New York, or the Bay Area scene, or – worst – fucking Montreal.

I love three-pieces, especially G-B-D types. Rainer Maria works on basically the same formula as The Who, although the content, performance, etc. are plenty different. Really virtuosic performers, who just tear into their instruments like they just bought them yesterday, filling up as much space as possible. I also have to admit that I like female bassists. Don't know why.

The new album is called Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, and it’s...sorta different, sorta not. The band smoothed out the sudden changes, abrasive vocals, and dissonance from the previous albums, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I love their last LP, Long Knives Drawn, because it sounds so much like their live show, full of careening energy and furious attacks. The new one is more controlled, more carefully arranged, less muddy. For the songs with depth, of which there are a handful, the added care improves the material. For the more banal songs (this poetically-themed band occasionally writes some pretty lame lyrics), the cleaner mix and simplified lines pushes the music dangerously close to modern-rock territory. On previous albums, slightly juvenile melodrama was well complimented with punk abandon. And you can’t fault bands that make this kind of music for writing simple lyrics – as with Sleater-Kinney, or The Walkmen, complex verbal exploration wouldn’t fit the tone or the style. That said, modern-rock + simple lyrics = Hootie, so you’ve got to be careful.

As with the last two albums, the first cut serves as the anthem, (see Long Knives Drawn’s “Mystery and Misery” or “Artificial Light” from A Better Version of Me). Cashing in on the post-millennial, pre-apocalypse tension, “Catastrophe” opens the album with a vaguely political alarm call/love song. It’s the best cut on the album, and even got me a little misty at the end, when Caithlin De Marrais repeats over and over: “I’ve got a plan/I’m gonna find you/at the end of the world.” What can I say, she’s hot and I’m a sucker for screamy professions of love against the odds.

Other album highlights: “So Terrified,” which would be cheesy if it weren’t so earnest and resolutely anti-clichĂ©. “Bottle” is a great love song that employs the charmingly Garth Brooks-ish metaphor of love like a bottle to the head. “Already Lost” has a mounting anguish that purges itself through lots of thrashy chords and desperate wail, along with trademark "I'm sad/I'm ok/wait, am I?" lyrics:

I waited up all night
And my thoughts were all of desolation
But the best part of waiting up all night
Was in the morning when I didn’t feel a thing.

There’s some familiar stuff here, too. “Life of Leisure” is basically “Ears Ring,” a little watered-down and Interpol-ed (Peter Katis, the Interpol’s producer, did the first two cuts). “Clear and True” has a generic catchiness that I know Camille will love, and I’ll endure and probably sing along with mindlessly. Unfortunately, William Kuehn’s wild drumming can’t save “Make You Mine” from lines like “I’ll make you mine/Cause I love you so, tonight,” and Kyle Fischer’s endlessly inventive guitar work can’t save “Burn” from similar problems.

But the album as a whole is great, and I’m sure it’ll grow on me, because De Marrais’s voice is so affecting, and they play so well. If you don’t own a Rainer Maria album, and you’re interested, I’d recommend Long Knives Drawn or A Better Version of Me, to get a sense of what their best songwriting sounds like un-handicapped by “sophisticated” production. Also download “Catastrophe” from iTunes and try not to sing it under your breath.

Oh – also, Rainer Maria are going on tour to support the new album, and I can’t recommend their live show strongly enough. I’ve been seeing live music long enough not to trust the frequent impulse to buy an album as soon as the show’s over. But I did after the show last year, because they were having such a blast on stage, dancing around and tearing into the songs. Kyle Fischer, especially, is not to be missed. It probably depends on the mood, but on the live DVD, and at the show I saw, he was just shredding and doing some killer Pete Townsend moves.

Tour dates

Band website

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ask New Plastic Alek

I stole this idea from Alex Ross, though of course I've seen it elsewhere. I wouldn't have done it myself, but after finding "new plastic alek" among the search terms that returned my website last month, I figured that if I've got a nickname, I should answer some questions.

Yes, immigrant housekeepers are underpaid: find out more.

I'm no expert, but I think if the chorus of a song is "I'm Black and I'm proud," it probably does exemplify black power.

Janel Maloney is not ugly -- consult a physician for your problem.

Hey man, once you found Angelo Badalamenti's theme for Twin Peaks, weren't you wishing that someone had remixed it?

Wouldn't we all love to read the Nice & Smooth blog? Greg Nice's posts would probably be pretty similar to his lyrics. "Today I bought some Timberlands. Does that make you jealous, per se wishing you had some? Don't get p-noid like Sigmund Freud. By the way, I love women. Do the seats recline in your car?"

To whoever was looking for the main idea of Paul Gilroy's Black Atlantic as a counterculture of modernity, let me know if you find it. Same goes for Sahlins' history of conjecture.

At least those folks are reading my college essays, instead of just downloading them from swipe pages.

For the millionth time, I'm a heterosexual white Jew: I know next to nothing about black male sexuality.

If you're an aspiring drum major searching for tricks, you've come to the wrong place -- unless you consider being tall and sick of band class a "trick."

And if you want to know what caused the holocaust, you've really come to the wrong place: try my mom.

Finally, this is all I know about your topic, sir. But they're newborns and they can't fly, so you can probably catch one and study it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

times is changin'/young niggas is agin'

Bloggin's gonna be spotty for a week or so more. Camille and I are looking at properties (or, in the proper parlance, "units") to actually buy with money and live in.

I can't describe how far that is from my youthful ideas about what I'd be doing at age 25. Not that this is worse. I thought I was going to be trying to make it as a professional clarinettist. Which meant, presumably, that when people asked me what I do for I living, I would have had to say "I'm a clarinettist." Glad I dodged that bullet.

I'm married. I have a cat, two fish, and a monthly car payment. I'm about to have a mortgage, and in a year and a half I'll be starting law school.

Things just ain't the same for gangstas.

*bends over, hands on knees, breathing deeply in and out*

Friday, April 14, 2006

aqui estamos y no nos vamos

A few reasons why Monday’s immigration rally in San Francisco was good.

1) It was short.

2) It had a mix of broad and narrow scope, i.e. Broad: Everyone deserves justice and citizenship in our country, regardless of where they came from or how they got here. No human being is “illegal.” Narrow: Boo HR 4437.

3) Our union was keeping things live with chants adapted (on the spot) for the occasion. "El pueblo-Arriba! La migra-a bajo!" etc. Local 2, baby.

There’s been tons of coverage on this issue already, obviously, and I’d expect that pretty much everyone reading this will be familiar with the relevant stuff here anyway. What interests me is the relation between the massive pro-immigration demonstrations (for lack of a better term), and the anti-war/anti-Bush mobilizations last month.

Leading up to, and following, the March 18 protests, I spent a lot of time talking with other folks in the movement about the effectiveness and utility of "mass mobilization." I’ve been complaining for a while now that, instead of being a focused demonstration of support for a particular change or set of changes, these anti-war mobilizations end up turning into Lefty-Con 2006. Hardly a rare complaint on the left, or anywhere else of the political spectrum for that matter, but no less valid for it. These are basically just large gatherings of people with similar, or related, or at least non-conflicting interests (like vegans and First Amendment advocates). That's why the proper term is "mass mobilization," as opposed to "protest." Well, really, I'm just splitting semantic hairs to prove the point -- I don't actually care what you call them. Anyway, Ben Adler wrote an article in Campus Progress last year about the September mobilizations, which I think sums it up very well:

Here we have the opportunity to bring together tens of thousands of Americans to implore someone (the president) with the power to grant a specific, achievable request (withdrawal from Iraq), and it may well be wasted. Where activists could demand a policy change that has significant and growing public support, too many choose to protest every U.S. policy under the sun.

…this view, in its attempt to be all encompassing, is in fact quite myopic; it trades actual gains for people suffering under occupation for the immediate satisfaction of unloading invective on every aspect of U.S. foreign policy for a day.

Should we resent people for believing in Lefty-con, or even just enjoying it? Well, obviously not -- and I admit that the part of myself I'm not crazy about frequently prompts me towards derision, either because I've decided to be holier-than-thou for the moment, or because I'm guilty about doing little to challenge US military aggression, or because I have a jerky knee despite my best efforts. But regardless of how mature I feel like being on a given day, I still don’t go to “mass mobilizations” as a rule. I don’t get much out of them, they’re rarely effective in my view, and I believe my time could be better spent working on focused campaigns, or taking a break from work on focused campaigns. And I won’t be arrogant enough to say I’ve heard every counter-argument to my position, but I’ve heard plenty. Think globally, act locally. Show the rest of the world visible resistance to the Washington consensus. Give activists a chance to communicate, recharge their “batteries,” get pumped. Etc. etc. etc.

Here’s the thing: it seems like whenever I ask organizers and attendees a few direct, strategic questions, things get way too murky for my taste. Who’s in charge of making the change you want to see happen? What do you think is most likely to influence their decision? Assuming they’re not inclined to make the change of their own volition, what do we believe will persuade them, threaten them, or leave them no option but to make that change? Those are the critical strategic questions to me. If you want to win change, as opposed to just demanding it, then strategic questions should be at the center of every action you perform and every dollar you spend.

If, for instance, I thought that mass mobilizations of leftists had any significant impact on the people who set U.S. military policy, then I would attend them. Unfortunately, even if they did have an effect, the mass mobilizations would still require a focused aim. The goal of gathering a whole lot of people in one place, or multiple places at once, ought to be to demonstrate that an enormous number of people were capable and willing to join together to push/oppose a particular course of action. And either the numbers, the demographics, the location, or the activity (ideally all) should demonstrate to people in power that they need to heed the will of the gatherers. Meanwhile, all that Lefty-Cons demonstrate is that thousands of leftists understand how to operate a listserve, and are willing to indulge each other for a short period of time. I know that sounds harsh, but it's hard for me to imagine how this kind of event would inspire someone (in an accountable way) to further action. I’m all for it if it does. And if there’s literally no other way to transform that person into a progressive, critically thinking, active member of society, then all the more reason for mass mobilizations to take place. I'm trying to work the scorn out of my system, and replace it with bland support, or at least indifference. But without clear, persuasive answers to the strategic questions I posed above, you will not find me there.

All that said, the immigration protests were the exact opposite of Lefty-con. There's pending legislation in Congress that will profoundly affect millions of immigrant families, communities, and the U.S. economy. Moreover, it will set the course for future federal decisions in this area, and public opinion is in flux.

Should we have a march for immigrant rights, human rights, no more sweatshops, organizing rights, and fair trade? No. We should have a march opposing the crappy legislation, and supporting a humane, just immigration policy to be implemented now, or at least begun now, while there’s a window. We’ve got legislation that’s up in the air, a critical wedge issue in the 2006 midterms, and a group of people that haven’t had any voice on the national stage since 2003. Politicians who are in charge of drafting and approving this legislation are watching their constituents because they know what's at stake. They're seeing business and labor unite on lobbying day, and they're seeing huge numbers of "legal," voting immigrants (and the naturalized-by-birth children of "illegals") turn out across the country. They're seeing the politicization of immigrant communities that are less than a generation old, and growing at enormous rates in hundreds of major cities. That covers who's in charge and who/what might be likely to influence their decision. It's clear that the organizing is there to make this one of the crucial political issues of the next ten years, and that leaves people and powerful institutions with no choice but to address it. Also, sad to say -- it's here in town, not across the world. Unlike US foreign policy, we have immediate and effective ways to confronting the injustice in our own communities, which means that voters, workers, taxpayers, and consumers can be mobilized to exert pressure directly on the folks that make these decisions.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

RIP William Sloane Coffin Jr.

I tried a few times to summarize Sloane Coffin's life, or express the lasting impact his work had, and will continue to have, on everyone that struggles for social justice.

But it's the end of the day and I'm wiped out. And tonight is Pesach.

So instead of waiting a long time to gather my thoughts, I'll just echo his most famous quote, in the hopes that it causes you to pause for a moment and mark his passing.

"The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love."

(In fairness, his most famous quote is probably the one about winning the rat race and still being a rat, but this one seemed more appropriate)


Passover begins tonight at sundown.

Josh, as usual, has put a lot more thought into this than I would have (or at least he linked to previous moments when he'd put thought into this).

I'll just add that the janitors at the University of Miami are entering their second week of a hunger strike for organizing rights, and that when we feast tonight we should remember not only those who hunger in a world of plenty, but also those whose hunger for justice has brought us -- and continues to bring us today -- ever closer to the promised land.

In case that was a little preachy, I'll also point out the the UM students straight GAFFLED an idea from the Better Way Village at Yale. Look at this picture, taken at UM last week:

Now look at this one, taken at Yale in April 2003:

I know, the mock negotiating table idea has been used before. This was too blatant to pass up, plus the 3-year anniversary of the BWV is coming up on Friday.

Monday, April 10, 2006

kid koala/mike relm

Kid Koala/Mike Relm/J-Boogie

Have you ever been to a “turntablist” concert?

That’s right: “No.”

You should go to one. If you like dancing to music, and aren’t ashamed to be a geek, it’s likely to be more fun than whatever live music’s available that night, and way better than CSI: Milwaukee (or whatever).

Turntablism: the record player/mixer as musical instrument. A lot of people have trouble accepting the pretense, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone holding onto that opinion about after seeing a show like the one I went to last week.

I’ll skip J-Boogie, because I always get bogged down in the openers. But Mike Relm is more fun than a barrel of Fun-Dip. Seriously, DO NOT MISS HIM IF HE COMES TO YOUR TOWN. He’s a dorky guy in glasses and a black suit, with a sense of humor, a lot of ridiculous things on vinyl, a fairly pointed (but not always apparent) political sensibility, and the innate DJ ability to make any record kill. And in his newer shows, he’s introduced the Pioneer DVJ-X1, which is a scratch-able DVD “turntable." A while back Pioneer developed some kind of algorithm to simulate vinyl manipulation and match it to a physical "scratching" interface, the size of a 45 record. That was a revolution, and now they've applied the same process to DVD audio, and built a parallel system for visual data. Imagine what it might look like on screen if someone was moving the spindles of one of those old reel-to-reel projectors back and forth, and you'll get the idea.

Relm already had made visuals a big part of his show, but with the scratch-able DVD, and a DVD burner, they can become totally integral. Video/audio clips include: Bjork’s “Human Behavior” video (where she sings at her Cheerios and gets chased by a stuffed bear), the “O face” and other scenes from Office Space, a mix experiment using the “Twist” scene from Pulp fiction (you can find video of that here), “99 Problems,” Peanuts/Peewee’s Playhouse, Fight Club, School of Rock…you name it. Plus blends of Led Zeppelin, the Cure, Public Enemy, John Lennon, Rage Against the Machine (two cuts!!), RJD2, etc. etc. etc. etc. I was in heaven. You can get a taste of it on his website , and check out some fan-recorded visuals at YouTube (they’ve even got clips from the SF show).

Kid Koala was also awesome. Folks will know him from Handsome Boy Modeling School, Deltron, and of course Gorillaz. Also Bullfrog. Koala’s set includes elaborate mood pieces, frenetic B-Boy workouts, artsy stuff, and lots of humor. He’s in the vein of other hiphop renaissance men, like Prince Paul, DJ Spooky, etc. He’s a cartoonist and composer, with clear designs on a niche market that has slowly become acceptable in the mainstream: geeks. Which isn’t to say he didn’t rock hard or get everyone dancing. But what stays with me was his Plunderphonics-style reworking of “Moon River,” his performance of “Drunk Trumpet” (in which he uses the turntable speed and vinyl surface to create his own jazz trumpet solo over a rhythm section), and his “spooky” set, which mixes Slayer, RATM – it was a good night for them – and various scary sound effects. It’s impossible not to have fun when this guy is playing. I can’t say enough about his creativity and the freshness of his approach to the instrument. Go get his first LP, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and listen to it with open ears.

And see him when he’s in your town.

I know I say that about everybody. I guess what I’m recommending is more live music. It’s the best possible way to spend your entertainment money. Do you remember any movies you went to in 2005? You’ve got maybe a dim memory of buying Milk Duds, right? Live music is interactive, and it stays with you much longer. Though, by the same token, it takes much longer to wash a bad show out of your brain than a bad movie. So do what I do – once every 1-2 months, spend an hour combing through Citysearch, or the events listings of your local paper. Alternately, you might make a list of the venues that you enjoy in your town and comb through their calendars. Then buy a set of will-call tickets in advance, and write it into your calendar. That way, you’ve already spent the money and blocked out the time, so you’re committed and you’ll make it out the door (which is the hardest part).

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Introducting Plork.

Should I change careers?

I don't know, I feel like Della Fitzgerald (that's my laptop) would be intimidated by the Powerbooks. Signal processing is not her thing. She's better equipped for simple things, like searching for screencaps of Janel Maloney in her underwear from last week's West Wing (don't bother, I already looked).

Some information & relevant questions, from the site:

The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) is a newly established ensemble of computer-based musical meta-instruments. Each instrument consists of a laptop, a multi-channel hemispherical speaker, and a variety of control devices (keyboards, graphics tablets, sensors, etc...). The students who make up the ensemble act as performers, researchers, composers, and software developers. The challenges are many: what kinds of sounds can we create? how can we physically control these sounds? how do we compose with these sounds? There are also social questions with musical and technical ramifications: how do we organize a dozen players in this context? with a conductor? via a wireless network?
It's too early (obviously) to tell whether this will turn out to be a novelty or the start of a widespread phenomenon. Computers have been a critical component of new music for decades now, and of live performance for nearly as long. Their capacity for use in an interactive context is based on the quality of the hardware design and the software programming. Plork is currently composed of people who participate in all aspects of the process, from research to design to composition. The success of this model beyond Princeton will rely on the quality of the ideas at all these levels. Will non-CS majors be able to learn & perform this music? If so, will the software for instrument design be flexible and friendly enough for them to design and play their own instruments? Will composers without a background in computer music be able to do the same?

This isn't to suggest that making the Plork idea available beyond the Princeton CS department is a necessary or even a good idea. But the unbounded nature of computer technology (not to mention wireless networking) prompts these kinds of questions. Friendliness and flexibility are two of the main advantages "meta-instruments" ought to have over the conventional variety, and the same should go for sound design and composition. To my mind, the prospect of those open, unexplored vistas (and not the novelty of 15 people sitting on pillows with Powerbooks) is the most exciting thing about Plork.

PS: I found while browsing around that, in Dutch, the word "PLORK" can also be used to describe a girl with a "Prachtige Lichaam, Onwijs Rot Kop" (sp?), which translates into English as "wonderful body, unbelievably ugly face."

In my freshman dorm room, I regret to inform you, the preferred term was "butter face." As in, "She has a nice body, but her face..." I don't think I need to explain that I never used this term. It's just one of the many gifts I received from Eric Eskenazi.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mad for Sadness

Arab Strap
Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco

Wow, what a difference. Camille & I last saw this band at the Guinguette Pirate in Paris, which is actually an old Chinese junk docked on the banks of the Seine. It's a horrible venue for live music. Woozy, cramped, navy toilets. They have the right idea, in that it resembles an awful dive bar, but at least in an awful dive bar you don't have to walk down the gangway for fresh air, or wonder if there's sewage in your drink.

This was the summer of 2003. Arab Strap had released Monday at the Hug & Pint the previous April, and was touring on it. They were not happy. Which, to anyone who's heard their music, will seem like a redundant statement. But they even seemed unhappy beyond the general level of gloom and disgust for which they're adored and/or detested, depending on your view.

The concert in 2003 was pretty awful, what with the sound problems and onstage bickering, but I've come to love this band deeply since then. Somehow they made it onto the list of artists whose releases I will always buy new, not used, as soon as they come out. I don't know what it was about their sound that got to me, but it was something. Slow, echoing fingerpicked guitar, plodding drum machine, and half-sung, half-growled, half-whispered lyrics about alcolhol and one-night stands in an impenetrable Scottish brogue. Occasional strings, plinky pianos, effects.

I know, I know, it sounds irresistable. But Arab Strap will seduce you (like fruits and vegetables, or a woman – (c) Oliver Babish). Lead singer Aidan Moffat has a Serge Gainsbourg-like delivery, and a rather distinctive way with a couplet. From “Packs of Three,” off Philophobia:

It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen
But you’ve no idea where that cock has been
You said you were careful, you never were with me
I heard you did it four times and johnnies come in packs of three

Meanwhile, guitarist Malcolm Middleton seems to have an endless supply of reflective, slowly-winding guitar backdrops. Rather than developing chord structures, bridges, etc., he strings these long lines together, so the overall effect is something between a guitar and a music-box drone with flange. It's distinctive, and immediately unsettling.

Over the course of the last ten years, the band has cautiously added new elements to their palette. Strings, bagpipes, music boxes, percussion. Each album gets a little more conventionally “listenable.” I actually like that they seem to work slowly and deliberately on their sound, rather than making a constant effort to fling themselves into new areas. They’re the perfect example of how doing the same thing over and over can work. Like the Morgan Freeman of Scottish indie rock.

Alright, the show. The first opener was A Whisper in the Noise. They courageously started with a 10-minute long slow tune. I leaned over to Camille and said “Side one of The Wall called, and they want their shouty, echo-y vocals back,” which she thought was funny. Then I told her I needed to remember that for the blog, and she retracted her statement, saying it wasn’t quote, “funny enough for the internet.” To which, of course, I had to respond: “If yeh don’t eat your meat, how can yeh have any pudding? How can ye have any pudding if yeh don’t eat your meat!?” I guess I don’t remember much more about the opener. They didn’t particularly pique my interest. Kind of detached and plodding for my taste. I feel bad saying that, since they suffered some misfortune later on in the tour, but being weird is not the same as being good. And even though I like weird music, I don’t like it because it’s weird. To be fair, I was hungry and waiting at the bar with my wife, who was also hungry (and a little cranky), so who knows.

His Name is Alive had the middle spot. I can’t get into their music too much. Some of it is terrific, some is just boring, wandering nonsense. “I Thought I Saw,” from their new album Detrola, is a super singable Motown-type shuffle, with horns and scratchy guitar goodness. It got the patented Camille head-bounce, which is hard to earn. But that song proved an exception during the show, and is probably an exception in their overall catalogue. The majority of their music left me cold, bored, and annoyed that I didn’t spend my money on something else. It’s worth noting, though, that their recorded output, from what I’ve sampled on ITunes, seems more varied than what they presented, and might offer more to eclectic ears. Unfortunately neither the songs nor the performance had the immediacy to translate well in a live context. Worse, their setlist was sequenced funny. It didn’t have much variety, and it didn’t build. ¾ of the way through, when you should be warming up to a band, getting comfortable with their sound and style, I was wishing HNIA would get off. That’s never a good sign.

Oh, right, the headliner. Well, they fucking killed. They’re in rock band mode now – no strings, two guitars, bass, and live drums instead of a machine. The concert opened with “Stink,” the snarling first track on their new LP, The Last Romance. The buzz on this album is that it’s more “upbeat” than the previous ones (true), but it’s comforting to know that even with sprightlier tempos, they haven’t strayed too far from the template. The first line of Stink is “Burn these sheets that we’ve just fucked in,” and it goes pretty much downhill from there. They are not Kool & The Gang. They tore through some new songs, including the new LP’s first single, “Dream Sequence,” as well as “(If There’s) No Hope For Us” and “Don’t Ask Me To Dance.” Like the older material, these songs explore the claustrophobic, disorienting nature of love and the need to escape, or at least get your bearings. But the upswing in pace and rock-ier instrumentation makes the music’s hopeful side a little more credible. Listening to the earlier albums, I had trouble believing that Aidan Moffat actually wanted his drunken, destructive lovelife to change. If he wasn’t addicted to wallowing, he was at least sincerely committed to it. The Last Romance, on the other hand, has a struggling, driven aspect to it that fundamentally alters the perspective – to me, at least. It’s just more hopeful, there’s no other way to say it.

As the show progressed they dug back into their ten-year catalogue for “Pyjamas,” “Who Named the Days,” “New Birds,” and “Packs of Three.” Though “Who Named the Days” is a gorgeous, whispered ballad, the overall crowd response & rapt sing-along leads me to believe that it’s become a minor anthem despite their best intentions. They closed the set with “There is No Ending,” an absurdly catchy uptempo dance number with a big trumpet hook and reluctantly optimistic lyrics. Yeah, it talks about pedophiles and nuclear holocaust, but it still falls squarely into the “love song of resistance” mold – sort of like “No Surrender” being covered by the patrons of a sports pub in the Northern UK. You know – “Love will keep us together…again.” My favorite part:

If you can love my growing gut, my rotten teeth, and graying hair
Then I can guarantee I’ll do the same as long as you can bear.
If you love my little poofy hands, my skinny arms and reeking feet
The way I dance the way I eat…

Plates may smash and doors may slam, my comments may be less than kind
But that won’t mean I’ve changed my mind
I’m a huffy prick the best of times, I love to sulk and shout and squeal
But please don’t doubt the way I feel.

For the encore, Aidan and Malcolm came back with an acoustic guitar and took requests. It offered a great window into the heart of the band, and a picture into how they must of looked, felt, and sounded back in the mid-nineties. I’m one of the fans that’s always glad (so far) to see them change their approach to music, and how it reflects their outlook on life, but it was nice to get a glimpse during the encore of the bare elements that called critical attention to Arab Strap a decade years ago: brutal honesty, dark humor, and passionate longing of the very modern, urban variety.

So Arab Strap was great. As for the other openers? Well, I’ll put it this way. They were not Scottish.

Monday, April 03, 2006

plus i'm scrambling... review shows I've seen recently. This last week was the NoisePop festival here in San Francisco, so it'll be a while before I get them together, but keep checking back.

Arab Strap should be up today or tomorrow.

Kid Koala/Mike Relm should be up later this week.

Smoosh should be up next week.

Planet Asia/Rasco will never be up, because the show was two weeks ago and I can't remember enough. It was slightly above average for a hip-hop show, but the sound was still weak and the crowd wasn't too familiar with Asia's new, worse material.

Superman is a dick.

RIP Norm Leonard...

In the vein of people whose death I missed because reading the Obit section depresses me almost as much as the Fashion section, I wanted to mark the passing of Norm Leonard. Over the last few months I've been having this conversation:

Some guy: So, you're going to law school?
Me: Yeah, I think so.
Some guy: What kind of law do you want to practice?
Me: I'm not sure I actually want to practice law, but...
Some guy: Then why are you going?
Me: Well, there's a lot of other things you can do with a law degree, but I don't know...I might practice law. If I did, it'd be, like, labor law or law directed towards social justice.
Some guy: You mean, like A Civil Action?
Me: No.

Well, if I did practice law, Norm Leonard would be the blueprint to follow. I'll link to the LA Times and SF Chronicle obits.

Here's the short summary of his work, from the Chronicle:

Mr. Leonard's cases included his 1954 defense of Harry Bridges before the U.S. Supreme Court, in which he successfully got the labor leader's perjury conviction overturned. Other cases included the defense of activists who picketed in spring 1964 at the Sheraton-Palace Hotel to protest a whites-only hiring practice; the defense of UC Berkeley students during the fall 1964 Free Speech Movement; conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War; and the representation of people subpoenaed before the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings for alleged Communist Party activity.

I had the good fortune to work for three months at Leonard Carder LLP, Bay Area firm started by Norm Leonard and his partner Bill Carder. I even attended a holiday lunch with Mr. Leonard in 2004, where he spoke forcefully about the importance of carrying on the work. His colleagues at the firm were an inspiration to me, and helped show me what could be done with a legal education. So, if I do end up practicing law (and again, I don't know if it's likely or not), it'll be due to that as much as anything.

Glad I got the opportunity to see him in person.