Friday, July 21, 2017

Live review: Warpaint at Williamsburg Hall of Music, July 18, 2017

Generally speaking, when it comes to music, I'm all about grit and sharp corners. The Minutemen. The Stones circa Exile on Main Street. Uncle Tupelo. The Band. Neil Young. Social Distortion. Sleater-Kinney. Even the gloomier things that I gravitate towards -- early Echo and the Bunnymen, early Cure, Joy Division, and the like -- have more angular and dynamic bits than you might think.

That's my way of telling you that sometimes I'm surprised at how much I love Warpaint.

But, seriously, I love Warpaint.

Warpaint is the perfect combination of the sheen and gloss of the interwoven guitar work of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman over top of one of the most solid rhythm sections going. Jenny Lee Lindberg plays intricate Jah Wobble bass grooves that lock down hard with Stella Mozgawa's stellar timekeeping. "Timekeeping" does not imply a Charlie Watts laid-back-in-the-pocket approach, mind you. Try and casually tap along with this:

You got lost, didn't you?

Stella Mozgawa can play drums in circles around us all, but she can also settle into the deepest darkest groove with Lindberg. Sometimes, like in "Keep It Healthy," she does both.

And then there are the vocal harmonies. Jesus, the vocal harmonies....

I like Warpaint best when they work inside that dark chamber of chill. But they have a whole 'nother side too, what the Mekons called "a dance band on the edge of time."

Tuesday night at Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg (in a FREE show, no less) all sides of the band were on glorious display.

For fans like me, who like the denser/deeper excursions into the void of groove, Warpaint did more than half their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse. "Krimson" was particularly sublime.

And, moving away from that EP, "Keep It Healthy," "Love is to Die" and "The Stall" were all in that same neighborhood where the early Cure get together with Massive Attack in a trance-like swirl of stunning. 

Conversely, the kids who came to Brooklyn to dance got "New Song," "Heads Up," and "Dre" from the most recent album and "Disco//Very" from the self-titled album.

Through it all -- whether purveying a dark trance, a joyful dance, or both -- the formula was simple, yet spot-on: the alchemy of Lindberg and Mozgawa's nimble, yet muscular, rhythms blended with Wayman's and Kokal's chiming, jangling guitars. I'm a drummer, so my rhythm-section prejudice is alive and well. I'm pretty fixated on this one. Jenny Lee Lindberg is a blast to watch onstage; she's either in a closed-eyed dance/groove or smiling and laughing with the ever-perfect Mozgawa. But this whole band conveys an unremitting in-the-moment "Yaaaaaassssssss!"-filled joy onstage that is a rarity to watch. Nothing bugs me more than a band that mails it in. Too many bands mail it in.

Warpaint does not mail it in.

If I have one regret, it's that they didn't play this one in Brooklyn:

For my money, it's their finest moment -- from the brilliant weirdness of Stella Mozgawa's drag on the initial groove to the way it all comes together into that "She said" final verse. I was sorry to see them omit it from the set.

But that's my uber-fan pickiness. I'm really happy that I made it to this particular show. Last October, I saw Warpaint at Union Transfer in Philly and they blew me away that night as well (including a sublime "No Way Out"). I was psyched to see that their upcoming tour opening for Depeche Mode (in monstrosity venues all over our fine land... no thanks) was taking a few breaks to allow for headlining Warpaint gigs in places like my home base of Philly. And then... I realized I am going to be out of town when they play Philly. Damn.... So this one was extra special.

There's a great account of the Brooklyn gig at Brooklyn Vegan, along with a set list and an array of stunning photos from photographer Ebru Yildiz that make me glad I didn't bother with crappy iPhone pics.

Warpaint are on a roll.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Live Review: King Crimson, Red Bank, NJ, July 9, 2017

What is King Crimson? The answer is notoriously hard to pin down, because the band has rarely stayed the same for very long -- in sound or in membership. The monster morphs at will -- the "will" in question being that of Robert Fripp, guitarist extraordinaire and the only constant in a nearly 50-year span of King Crimson.

I won't pretend to know everything there is about King Crimson, nor to have been a life-long devotee of the band. I bought their first album -- In the Court of the Crimson King -- around 1977 or so, as my Yes/Genesis prog days were giving way to my Clash/Jam/Damned punk days. By then, Crimson was on hiatus, and, already being the sort of gig-obsessed music fan that I still am, when I realized that fact, post-purchase, it took a little gild off the lily, as it were, for me. I liked that record, but never quite got around at the time to loving it because, when I bought it, the band wasn't a practicing entity any longer. By the time that status changed -- 1981 and the Discipline album with a reformed four-piece Crimson -- most of my listening had moved on.

So when that early-'80s reunion occurred, I skipped out on all that, somehow, and, while I was busy listening to some genius American and English punk in the early '80s, the boys in Crimson were putting out some of their best material (I later learned).

Then they split again; then they were back together in the early '90s for Thrak, with some of the same characters from the '80s plus more.

I still didn't catch back on.

There were a few more releases, more tours, membership changes. Me? I didn't really check back in for quite some time.

Then, about 2010, not having given a thought to anything Crimson-related in years, but beginning to revisit some old prog and jazz, I stumbled across a cheap copy of Red. I bought it, eager to delve into what one reviewer has called: "a new type of heaviness. . . one that effectively disengages itself from the blues-derived riffology practiced by the big three of early 70s hard rock – Sabbath, Zeppelin, Purple – and instead creates a starker, colder, darker version of heavy that nevertheless still delivers serious cathartic thrills."

I like cathartic thrills. I like dark. I like heavy.

I dug in.

I dug it.

I was hooked. The mid-'70s version of Crimson that released the trio of Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red was significantly more dangerous than the first-album version of the band. Yup, that means that I followed my purchase of Red with those Larks and Starless albums. I loved them. If they lacked anything, it was solid production. They sounded, well, a little old, but, god, they sounded good. And weird. And dark. And, yes, dangerous.

If the fringes of punk rock had taught me anything, it was the adage, "Punk is whatever we made it to be," and, it appeared to me, nothing was more punk in spirit than the ever-shifting persona and sound of King Crimson.

The next step for me was to explore the '80s and '90s incarnations of the band. Sure, I could have headed for the band's second through fourth albums from the early '70s (post-Court, but pre-Larks), but reviews told me that the '80s and '90s versions of the band had more in common with the power and unpredictability of Red than did those second through fourth albums where it seemed, from the reviews, things were a little lighter, albeit still challenging. I didn't want light. I wanted thundering, disjointed darkness with a side helping of weird.

I loved it all, but I fell particularly under the trance of this one:

Sure, it's prog as hell overall -- with Tony Levin anchoring down the basic rhythm on his Stick contraption while Bill Bruford plays drums in circles around and over and under him and Belew and Fripp weave with shards and spindles of broken glass -- but the harsh edges are the best punk to me as well. It challenges; it pulls you back close; it punches you in the face.

Fast forward to 2016. 

I read an article about a King Crimson tour. They had seven members and three of the seven were drummers. It sounded heavy and dark and (there's that word again) dangerous. Moreover, from what I read, the typical setlist that tour was, for the first time, spanning the entire Crimson catalogue as Fripp and company reestablished their five-fingered death grip on songs that had long lay dormant, but they did so in a rejuvenating way. This was no greatest-hits/resting-on-one's-laurels/cranking-out-the-same-old-crap tour. This was experimental and cutting edge, but with the feet of the beast planted in many different eras, stirring the musical pot.

"Don't disappoint me, gentlemen," I muttered as I hit the "buy" button on the 2016 live box set. "Radical Action to Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind" is the title. Readers of this blog will know that I'm definitely against the hold that monkey mind sometimes has on me. I'm also most certainly in favor of radical action to unseat that hold. I had high hopes.

The album did not disappoint. For my money -- and there are likely legions of Crimson fans worldwide that will want to draw and quarter me for this statement -- it is the best thing the band has ever done. That tinny-production complaint that I blasphemed regarding some of the older albums? Not here.

It's heavy. One of the discs is called, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, "Mostly Metal." But it kind of is. The 2016 takes on "Larks' Tongues" Part 1 and 2 render them nearly different songs. "Red" has a little extra oomph and I dare say that there is not a studio version of one of these songs that I prefer to the Radical Action version.

There are also a few newer compositions that hold their own. I was ready for a Crimson appearance in Philly.

They announced a tour. Philly wasn't on it. But Red Bank, NJ was. Re-muttering, "Don't disappoint me, gentlemen," I hit the "buy" button on a single second-row ticket that I bought when I could not find anyone that was both willing to spend the substantial price for a ticket to this tour and not already busy that night. I was going to be on a rare solo trip for this show.

Fast forward to Red Bank, July 9, 2017.

First observation: the crowd is a bit of a dude-fest. I can't say I expected any different. But the lines for the men's room are going to be epic. The queue for the merch counter was already considerable at 7:10 when I walked in for the 8 p.m. show.

Second observation: damn. Mr. Fripp and company apparently do not want their photos taken while playing. Honestly, I totally get the no-video thing, and I get the no-flash thing. But no pics at all? I was sitting right in front of Gavin Harrison and I would have some pretty formidable shots of him playing drums if it weren't for the rules, maaaaan. But the rules were so clearly stated (signs!) that I didn't dare violate them from my vaunted spot near the front.

Third observation: sweet mother of god, I'm glad I brought earplugs. The speaker stack was, oh, seven feet in front of me at most. 

Final observation: my mind is fully and completely blown.

Here is a link to the setlist.

Sure, I'd have liked a little heavier concentration on the Discipline/Beat era if I were writing my own "perfect" Crimson setlist, but this was, hands down, the tightest band I have ever seen in my life. They hit on almost all eras of the band, and paid a little extra effort to re-work songs so the "now" version of everything presented a cohesive feel. Go listen to tracks from the band's early years, then some from Red/Larks and then some from Discipline and Beat, and tell me you hear one band. Nope, but when those songs are performed by King Crimson circa 2017, they all come from the same primal core. I like the studio versions of almost everything they played (full disclosure: "Islands" has never been my cup of tea) but the 2017 live versions of everything truly breathe "radical" life and dynamics into all the songs.

The most "radical" concept of "Radical Action" is clearly the use of three drummers. Apparently it was going to be four drummers this tour, but that plan got scrapped along the way. But three is still one more drummer than I have ever seen playing at the same time on a stage and I wondered: would it all be a giant mess? With a resounding, "No!" the trio of Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey, and Pat Mastelotto somehow managed not merely to avoid getting in one another's way, but they made everything better, as if they are actually constituent parts of a six-handed drummer with one collective brain and two feet. The fills never clashed, spinning glorious circles around one another, and the rare moments of simultaneous collective bashing were exactly the oomph the songs demanded at those spots. From my second-row position directly in front of Gavin Harrison, I'd say he's the most Bruford-esque of the trio, but it may be that my seat location led to prejudice in that regard. All three of them were jaw-droppingly skilled, and when they alternated fills -- like on "Lizard" or "Indiscipline" -- it made me simultaneously want to practice drumming more often and just give up. These men can play.

Speaking of "Indiscipline".... As a devotee of, I had noticed that most of the second sets this tour opened with that favorite of mine. When this one didn't, and the band launched at that juncture into a pounding, menacing take on "Larks' Tongues Part 1" instead, I shrugged it off. They were killing it anyway. I was good. By the time they played "Easy Money" as the third song of that set, I had mostly cast aside any thought of "Indiscipline."

Trust Robert Fripp to always keep me on my toes. Tony Levin began the rhythmic trancelike tap of the opening lines on the Stick, and they were off to the races on "Indiscipline." On the studio version, or even the live version in the video above, the intro section is short, much less than a minute. But 2017 Crimson is not mired in the past. It does what it wants to. It wanted to ride that intro groove for what seemed like a full five minutes. Levin played the bass part in 5/4 (or is it sometimes 6/4, or 11/4? Oh hell, I don't know) and locked that down while, I swear, the drummers alternated fills designed not merely to enhance the song but in a spirited competition to try to do the impossible: make Levin stumble. Levin emerged unscathed from the battle; he cracked a few grins, but he did not drop a beat. For five minutes of fury. And they paused for a second, as if all the air were momentarily sucked out of the room. Then.... pow. The main riff began and the band was on fire. But then came the biggest surprise of all -- a harmonized, sung jazzy vocal from Jakko Jakszyk and Tony Levin. I don't know if I like that vocal better than the original Belew one, but it was stunning. To quote the lyric, "I wish you were here to see it!"

What about, well, everything else? It was all perfect. There are many little moments that are etched on my brain:

-- Mel Collins' sax work that added a glorious Coltrane-esque skronk to whatever he played on.

-- Fripp strumming the hell out of his guitar to start Larks Pt 1, and nothing coming out, until it built slowly, methodically into a wall of noise.

-- My unremitting freaking joy when the usual first-set closer ("Islands") ended and the band didn't move. Instead, they all looked to Fripp, who began "Larks' Tongues" Part 2. It thundered and was the perfect finisher to the the opening set.

-- Every little visual cue traded between musicians, particularly Tony Levin's apparent near-constant bemusement, Jakko's and Fripp's beaming pride as Gavin Harrison took a drum solo that even I loved (I really don't like most drum solos), and the grins of delight between drummers as they took their turn on increasingly challenging fills.

-- Just how perfectly "Cirkus/Lizard/Red" is as a trio of songs in the middle of a set. Those first two are a bit similar in vibe, coming from the same album, but "Red" is, originally, a whole different level of menace and noise. The 2017 Crimson solution? Bring the first two up to the level of the last one. I like the studio versions of "Cirkus" and "Lizard" just fine, but what happens to those songs these days, with three drummers, and a significant increase in attack, is a wonder to behold.

-- The setlists are perfectly constructed to leave us spent and exhausted in all the best ways.

-- And, finally, yes, this, even though it sounded too "normal" for the rest of the night in many respects. It's a great song, and they did it well:

I could go on and on.

I think I already have.

Damn, what a performance. I'm psyched for the next tour already. Philly, gentlemen? I hope so.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bring on the vegetables, or why I've started to think: "Vegetables first."

The idea started with a realization -- as ideas tend to do. OK, actually it started with an expletive, as my ideas tend to do.

"Shit. I really need to focus more on eating vegetables."

Let me clarify, though. I eat a lot of vegetables, if "a lot" is measured on a scale of "everyone jammed into this particular baseball stadium [or wherever humanity congregates] at this moment." In other words, I eat more vegetables than "most people." But this is America. "Most" of us are overweight. I'm not and I don't want to be.

You probably eat more vegetables than "most people" too. You likely wouldn't be here if you weren't interested in good health, and vegetables are awesome in the good-health department. Antioxidant-rich vegetables are particularly great.

But do you really eat "a lot of vegetables?" Or do you just eat more vegetables than "most" people?

I got into a lazy habit over the past few years of making fermented vegetables a large portion of my vegetable intake. They are good for you -- probiotics and all that -- but no one eats as many fermented vegetables as they would fresh vegetables. I didn't either.

But there's a bigger issue here. If I think the dead-animal part of my plate is overly large and the vegetable portion overly small -- and I'm right about that -- how did that really happen? Was it just the laziness of reaching for that jar of Wild Brine fermented veggies more than I was cooking vegetables? Yeah, sure, that had something to do with it, but the bigger problem, for me anyway, is one of mindset.

Here's how I traditionally think about the answer to the question: "What's for dinner?" It begins with an animal: chicken, beef, lamb (mmmm, lamb), fish. Only then do I think about what the vegetable will be and it's only an add-on in my brain to the animal protein. You know, like: "chicken and asparagus," or "lamb and broccoli," etc.

I've decided to knock that shit off.

The plan is called Vegetables First.

I bulk-cook a lot. I don't mind eating the same things -- or bouncing back and forth between a few things -- for days and days. I used to bulk-cook meat and vegetables, but there was always -- ALWAYS -- more meat than vegetables in the pot

Now I've started bulk-cooking vegetables -- huge pots of things like eggplants and red peppers, or Brussels sprouts, or broccoli. I still bulk-cook meat too, usually still with vegetables, but the answer to "What's for ____ [breakfast/lunch/dinner]?" begins with one of those bulk-cooked vegetables. Only then do I consider what animal protein I am adding to my vegetables. It leads to conversations with myself that go:

"What's for lunch?"
"Um, eggplant and peppers. And I'll add some ____ [lamb, sardines, beef, chicken, whatever dude] to that."

The difference, measured in numerous ways -- increased vegetable consumption, decreased meat consumption, lower grocery bills -- is insane. The ratio of meat to veggies on my plate is less. I'm eating so many more antioxidant-rich vegetables, and our grocery bills are lower. And yet I'm still low-carb.

But, you say, loudly: "HOW WILL YOU GET ENOUGH PROTEIN???!?" Let's put it this way: I've never been in danger of eating too little meat since I started my paleo/primal journey and I'm still not. Yeah, I'm eating less meat, but the main difference is that I am eating a lot more vegetables. It's like I'm living that piece of advice from Michael Pollan about: "Eat [real] food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I've even been working out more lately too, and haven't had a bit of trouble with "recovery." Take that, protein-powder junkies.

My primary mantra in this lifestyle has always been "whatever works for you." Only you know if you should be eating more vegetables and only you know, if the answer is that you should be, whether a "vegetables first" mindset will help you eat more. But it sure does here.

Like they say in the law, "Res ipsa loquitur."
The thing speaks for itself.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Lower Wolves last night at Boot and Saddle in Philly

Someone made a GIF out of us, and it cracks me up. This is from our set of early-REM covers last night at the Boot and Saddle in Philly.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Early 2017 stuff, or: How I briefly disappeared from the blogosphere and found some unexpected new happiness

It's early March. Okay, it's more like the early part of mid-March. I knew I'd been neglecting this blog a bit, but whoa.... Going over two months without a post is no way to run one of these things.

The only positive side of this neglect is the explanation. It's not some generic pablum about being "busy"; instead, it's more like: "I STARTED THIS COOL NEW THING!!"

The COOL NEW THING? Teaching. And, yes, that's kept me "busy."

I'm a lawyer during the day. You may recall that we don't talk about that much here. We still don't, but I'm reasonably accomplished at what I do, and so a while ago a colleague noted to me that a local law school was looking for an adjunct professor. "You should totally do this," she said. "It'll be something different, and you have a lot to offer the students in terms of real-world practice and courtroom experience."

I initially made "How dare you interrupt my cushy comfortable day-to-day existence with a challenge" noises that sounded a lot like, "Ummmmm. <pause> Ughhhhhhh. <pause> Really? <pause> Ahhhhh, shit. <pause> I mean maybe. <pause> I've taught seminars. And I definitely would have a handle on this course, which is basically 'how to do my day job.'" More grumbling noises followed.

She saw the crack in the armor: "Come onnnnnnn. It's all about giving back, you know."

She got me. In the grand scheme of things, life is really all about giving back. I've done lots of "giving back" work over the years. Coaching kids. Escorting patients at a women's health clinic past stupid protestors that were yelling hateful things. More recently, I've been volunteering with shelter dogs for a while now. It was time to focus again on people....

So I contacted the prof who was running the program. She liked my experience level -- not my law-school teaching experience level, mind you; that was non-existent. She liked my real-world experience level. I was in.

It started out as a lot of work. A lot of work. For me. The class has to prepare a brief and argue an appeal in front of a panel of mock "judges." The legal problem they were given is reasonably interesting, but it's complicated as hell. It's also in an area of law that I knew nothing about before I saw the problem. Nothing. That phrase is not hyperbole on my part. Nothing. Nada. Not a damn thing.

So a few weeks before the semester started, I had some time off from the day job and I dug into the assignment/problem. I mapped out all of its permutations, muttered profanities under my breath, and eventually "got" it -- "it" being the gist of the whole thing, in rather extreme detail. Dealing with, and explaining, extreme detail is part of my day-to-day practice of law. I wondered aloud how second and third-year law students would do with this sort of detail though....

And then I had a horrible memory: way back in law school I had a class like this and it was a bit of a nightmare. The prof did not give us a lot of guidance on the legal problem. Instead, he taught us the generics of how to brief and argue a case, but he left the legal intricacies of the actual assignment to us. That didn't work out so well for me. I got off on the wrong tangent and turned in a draft brief that, in hindsight, was awful, misguided and just plain wrong. The teaching assistant gave me a deservedly horrendous review and then she made suggestions to improve the final product. I followed those suggestions and did okay with the revisions, but I recall thinking to myself that I could have done so much better if only I hadn't gotten so far off track initially.

So I made a vow that no one in my class was going to get left that far behind.

One of the attractions of this course to an adjunct coming in from the real world is that the profs teaching the individual sections are given a load of freedom regarding how to convey the material. There's a pre-made syllabus that we are handed, and we get suggestions on what we might want to do each week, but the actual content is up to us. We aren't robots and we aren't treated like we are. It's cool that way. So I chose to teach the course the way I would have wanted to be taught it when I was in law school. It's not a legal-research course; it focuses on advocacy skills. Amidst trying to convey various written- and oral-advocacy skills, each week I have also tried to dig a little deeper into explaining the law related to the assignment, thereby honoring that "no one left behind" pledge. You can't advocate for something that you don't understand.

I think the plan is working. Everyone is at least in the neighborhood, legally speaking, in which he or she needs to be. Sure, some students demonstrate a little more complexity of thought and understanding than others regarding the assignment. I expect that. It's a mandatory course and everyone doesn't respond as gleefully as others to being compelled to a task.

But I'm totally digging watching the lights burn a little brighter in their young-lawyer brains. That whole "joy of giving back" thing? Yup. Yup. Yup.

But back to the "busy" part of the deal, and why I haven't been here at all.... Damnnnnnnn if all this teaching work didn't crush my free time early on in the semester. I mean... I have a day job for eff's sake. So ordinary work hours weren't going to be spent on teaching work. Weekends and nights were where I'd have to fit it all in. There were assignments each week, early on, that I had to evaluate and return with comments. It was rewarding, in that I'd get to fine-tune a lot of already good work. But the time crush was stressful at first. Those close to me might tell you I was a little wound up. They might even tell you I was a lot wound up. They might even have heard me say at one point that there was "no way in hell I can ever do this again because I have no free time at the moment."

I may have said that. I was lying. That was weeks ago. In the interim, I've gotten some great feedback that lets me know the "plan" seems to be working. All the students seem to have the basic legal understanding regarding the assignment that I wanted to make sure they had. Some are miles past "basic" in that regard, but everyone is up to speed. I'm pretty happy with that. I'm really happy with that.

The semester's not over. We are only at the halfway point. Drafts of their final assignment are due this week and, necessarily -- because life is like that -- some people are going to perform better on the actual task than others, but I like to think that no one is going to feel that horrible "lost" feeling that I did way back when. And that makes me feel really good.

So there's the story of my blog silence. Yeah, I've been busy. Not generically busy, but really specifically busy. I had no idea I was going to like this gig this much. Old dog. New tricks. Giving back. Good times.