Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cascade Festival of Music goes under

It's late but I can't sleep. The Cascade Festival of Music in Bend has just cancelled its summer season and is rumored to be filing for bankruptcy, and I just found this out less than an hour ago. As a member of the Portland Symphonic Choir, I was going to sing Orff's Carmina Burana at the festival at the end of the summer, and James DePriest was slated to take over as conductor there next year after Murray Sidlin's final concerts this season. Now the entire future of the festival is gravely in doubt.

The CFM meant so much to me as a wee music nerd growing up in the middle of cow country in Terrebonne; there weren't a lot of kids that I grew up with who could play Mozart on the piano or tell you how many symphonies Beethoven wrote, but you can bet those of us who could went to the CFM every summer with our families. My musical hero Dr. Charles Heiden was one of the festival's founders. Dave Stabler's blog has all the depressing news and I posted a comment there. I'm too bummed to write any more about it now.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Concert Review: Per Se, Sophe Lux and Rachel Taylor Brown or, Putting the Parity back in Disparity

First off, I must confess that this was my first show, ever, at the Doug Fir. (So although everyone else in the entire world has been there but me, I'll give my first impressions anyway.) I know, I know, it's P-town's uber-hip musical venue, and people come from all over the place just to listen to and play music here. My reasons for avoiding it are somewhat vague: at first, it was because, as a smoker, I railed against another weeny, health-nut establishment that wouldn't let me smoke and drink at the same time, two things that go together like golden sponge cake and chemical filling in a Twinkie. Since I quit smoking two years ago however, it's been because the Doug Fir is sort of the hipster black-hole: no hipster in Portland can escape its gravity, and they all end up swirling, swirling, like tp down the toilet hole, inextractably drawn to its ultra cool magnetism. irrational disdain towards hipsters (whatever that term means; much more knowledgeable people than I have tried (unsuccessfully) to define it but let's just say PDX is bursting at the seams with them) doesn't really make much sense, given that individually, I'm friends with a number of people who could probably qualify as hipsters yet because I like them I don't see them that way...OK. Enough of my anti-hipster prejudice. I went last Thursday, the 19th, because Sophe Lux was playing, and I personally know the violist/backup singer/keyboardist Mattie Kaiser (aka Foxy Lux.) There's my bias disclaimer.

The Doug Fir Lounge was downstairs. It was dimly lit and staffed by a number of too-cool-for-school-looking although fairly friendly employees. The decor was bland concrete everywhere, perhaps trying to be understated but instead ending up plain old boring. The woodwork struck me as hokey and self-insistent, and the stage was framed by two concrete pillars with all the charm of those cardboard tubes left over when you get to the end of a roll of paper towels. At first I sat at one of the tables off to the side (the only tables were off to the side, and only at the ones farthest from the stage could you hope to see anything like a full-on front view of said stage, and they were already taken even though I got there early.) I eventually settled on sitting on the carpeted stairs so I could see what was going on.

Per Se was the opener. This act consisted entirely of one woman, Grey Anne (the stage name of Portlander Anne Adams.) She took the stage in an old-fashioned flowered dress with a long crinoline underneath and a sad, battered pair of butterfly wings on her back, reminding me of the disembodied spirit of some lost London orphan girl who was run over by a rich man's carriage at the end of the 19th century, come back to haunt the world with electric guitar in hand. And from the first moment she started playing, I was completely entranced, and extremely impressed not only by her songwriting but by her DIY musicality to boot.

Her voice was high, thin and spidery, and yet it seemed to fit perfectly with her songs (later she hinted that she was feeling sick and apologized for her singing, but I thought it was fine.) She used looping pedals consistently and to great effect, on one song tapping out a rhythm on a bodhran and using that throughout her playing, other times layering multi-part vocal harmonies, and even laying down a whistling echo loop at one point. Her songs were wistful, daydreamy, and immediately accessible. Adams has a deliciously silly way of playing with language, such as in her song Flapjack Devilfish: "Isn't it sweet to retreat to a waterworld, isn't it fine to unwind...Bottom feeders closing in, and the flapjack devilfish flies again..." She had another song where the chorus consisted of a varying play on the words 'Paraguay,' 'paramour,' and 'paradise.' Adams is a bit of a raconteur (raconteuse?), joking with the audience and painting verbal scenes in between songs. While her songs are very original, I heard whispers of some of the very best things I love about the softer side of Liz Phair.

Grey Anne was very original and unpretentious, singing, playing guitar, bodhran, ukulele, and accordion, and I love multi-threat musicians. I would have enjoyed a bit more variety in pacing i.e., interspersing the livelier songs more evenly throughout the set, but that's really being nitpicky. I loved her show. Per Se doesn't have a CD yet, but I've already downloaded all of the mp3s available at her website. I especially enjoy The Liking and Flapjack Devilfish. This musician warmly, defiantly wears a childish heart on the ragged edge of her sleeve, and it was great fun to behold.

The next act, Sophe Lux, couldn't have been more different in style and temperament from Per Se, and yet I did notice some commonalities. (More about the subtle string of similarities I noticed in all three acts later.) Fronted by a trio of gorgeous women dressed variously like a naughty nurse (or maybe a 1950's airline stewardess), a feathered masquerade baller, and something that was later described as a spirit from the "Scandinavian forest primeval," Sophe Lux was very much about the spectacle. The bearded drummer sported a viking hat that would do Wagner's Brunhilde proud, and the bass player was some sort of disco dufus.

And that's not to say they didn't shine musically. They had some very catchy tunes, especially Target Market and Marie Antoinette Robot. Some of the tunes were a tad self-important, but maybe that's part of their whole mise-en-scene. They had some great sounding four and five part vocal harmonies, and a set list that displayed a wide variety of styles and themes, from vaguely Pink Floydian spoken word (a la 'how can you have any puddin' if you don't eat your meat?' ) to very pensive numbers with eerie sonic effects, such as the viola being played high up on the bridge for a whiskery, scratchy tonality. Lead songstress Gwynneth Haynes (Mercury Lux) delivered stirring and impassioned vocals, and the entire group displayed solid musicianship, with people switching instruments throughout the set. They even tried to get the audience to participate (although expecting a room full of white hipsters to consistently and accurately clap on the 'and' of 2 and 4 was a bit much to ask....sorry, there I go again). There were a number of problems with the balance throughout the show. Apparently the sound man was filling in at the last minute, but as the set went on some of the problems were corrected with help from Mercury.

They've got two CDs, including their brand new one Waking Mystics that has received rave reviews from Spin Magazine among others. Their Myspace page (link above) has individual tracks available for download at a buck a pop, as well as a cryptic, space-aged manifesto that sheds some light on their aesthetic. For those who want the spectacle back in their pop music, Sophe Lux is a great group, and would need to be seen live to appreciate the full experience.

Finally Rachel Taylor Brown took the stage, along with her band. I liked the way the first song started so that you didn't really realize it had started, sort of a bunch of found sounds overlapping one over the other: telephones ringing, subway sounds, a busy street, etc, and then the music comes in slowly out of nowhere. I plan on saying more about this group when I review their brand new CD Half Hours with the Lower Creatures. (Besides, I was a little bit loaded by the time they took the stage and I'm having a hard time reading my notes. That's the trouble with reviewing concerts in clubs...) A couple of things I would like to mention though: one is that her song Passion is fucking fabulous; it's melancholy, soulful, honest and deeply moving. It is replete with heavily cynical Judeo-Christian iconography (as were a number of other songs,) and is one example I can see of why she's getting so much press lately. I think big things are ahead for her. (Read an interview with her here at Bullz-Eye.) And that wasn't the only wonderful song I heard from this group.

Despite being completely dissimilar stylistically and even from a presentational aspect, there were a few underriding factors that linked these three acts. One was originality and approachability: there was nothing that was difficult to grasp or dreadful to listen to. But just because I heard a preponderance of catchy tunes didn't mean there was no depth; to the contrary, I was struck by how introspective and honest the music felt, albeit from radically different perspectives. Another thing that linked these disparate acts together as a good show was that there were a lot of musician's musicians there, and by that I mean artists who were skilled at multiple instruments, a talent which (since I possess it myself) I value highly in others, and it always bumps up a performance a notch or two in my view when I see this. From the dude with Rachel Brown who whaled away contentedly on an overturned garbage can and then delicately picked up a viola to the self-accompanied talent of Per Se, it's fun to see people with musicality solid enough to allow them to approach music in this way.

So the hipster nightmare I had feared never materialized; as prejudices tend to do, the roaches of my own preconception scattered once exposed to the warm firelight in the courtyard outside the restaurant. I had a lot of great conversations with interesting people, met members of a new band who have just moved to Portland from Boston (I hope they wrote down my blog name and will remind me what they're called since I forgot to write the name of their band down. Curse that delicious alcohol!) and had a great time in general. My first time at the Doug Fir, but definitely not my last.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My first article up at Primer Magazine

Primer Magazine, a brand-new online magazine that covers a wide variety of topics, ran my first (of hopefully many) articles, entitled "How to Talk about Classical Music." I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it, either here or in the comments section at Primer.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sasquatch Part 3: The Final Inebriation

Monday, the last day of Sasquatch Music Fest, dawned bright and clear like Sunday did, the sun rolling me out of my bed before I was ready yet again. Sunday night had been rough; I really thought I was going to hurl that night but managed to pass out without doing so. I felt much better Monday morning, especially after the Tequila Sunrise that we shared with our Idahoan friends. They complemented us on our traveling bar, saying it was the most extensive they had ever seen at any fest (and believe me, Nate is a fester extraordinaire.) I wasn't sure whether to be proud of that or vaguely ashamed...I can't help it if I've got great taste in the matter of spirituous beverages...

Hanging out again with our neighbors in the morning was sort of a bittersweet affair; I develop a childlike, infatuous friendship quickly at events like this, and it's always sad to know that these cool people I've only known for a few days will soon be heading their way and we ours. I often find myself wondering what their lives are like: where do they work, what are their hangouts, who do they know. It's like you become a small part of someone's life for that short period of time, and perhaps the brevity of the event allows everyone to drop their guard a bit and let people in sooner and farther than you might normally do, precisely because of the fact that you know you'll probably never see them again. Ah well. We said our farewells, exchanged phone numbers and a vague offer to maybe see each other at surferboy-dreamboat Jack Johnson's concert at the Gorge in August (we've got our tickets for that already) but who knows if that will happen. C'est la vie, that's part of the fun of it all.

It was a spectacular early afternoon, and I managed to finally get sunburned despite my best efforts while hanging out with the Seattleites and bidding a wistful farewell to the gorgeous Italiana and her tall, perfect athletic American boyfriend whom I tried my hardest to pretend wasn't there...I lay down to take a snooze but never really fell asleep. I reflected on the strangeness of time passing. There in the cool shade of the canopy, with my sweetheart lying next to me and the breeze blowing over me like a whisper, the sounds of campers packing up and the rustling of the trees, it seemed as though time slowed, like an eternity was crammed into three quarters of an hour. Yet that strangely contrasted with how the entire weekend had seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, and here we were about to go into the show for the last day of the fest and just 5 minutes ago we were leaving the house bright and early on Saturday morning.

Built to Spill, one of my favorite groups of the last few years, was the reason we got tickets for Monday and one of the main reasons I decided to go to Sasquatch this year. The bill described them as a 'jam band,' a lable which sort of fit...maybe, but certainly not in the sense of Phish (a group I can do without) or the Grateful Dead (whom I love dearly...what a long wonderful trip it was with you Jerry!) Built to Spill has a very dreamy, heavily guitar-oriented sound in which the consonant melodies play a crucial role. They are based in Boise, and are one of the originators of what has become known loosely as the 'Northwest Sound,' although with the exception of Quasi I'm very familiar with all of the artists that Wikipedia lists as being purveyors of this sound, and there are far more differences than similarities between them.

The singing is very introspective and has a tendency to take a back seat to the music at times, which could be the reason they're called a 'jam band' sometimes (to me that word has a vaguely pejorative connotation to it.) At any rate, it was a good show, and they played my favorite song of theirs, Carry the Zero, although again, I think I'd rather see this group in a smaller venue on a Friday night somewhere than in the immensity of the gorge. I think the distortion and 'wall of sound' effect is diffused somewhat in the open air, and though this is the first time I've seen them, I have a feeling that close-in reverberation would have added a great deal to their live sound.

Next came Rodrigo y Gabriela, much hyped and another of the hottest acts at Sasquatch '08, a group that was the specific reason many people came to this show. I heard an interview with them on NPR a couple of years ago and had forgotten all about them until they took the stage. They're an interesting couple: they played in a thrash metal band in Mexico City before moving to Europe to check out the scene there. They currently reside in Dublin and have a huge following worldwide. They play acoustic guitars with an intensity that can only be described as virtuosic. My favorite moment of their performance was when they did an instrumental version of Master of Puppets, the title track and my second-favorite song from my favorite Metallica LP of all time. It was blisteringly fast, absolutely perfect, and missing none of the nuance of this song despite two acoustic guitars being a radically different medium than that presented by the ultimate speed metal group ever. If R.E.M. is my generation's Beatles, then Metallica is my generation's Led Zeppelin. (Very loose and perhaps crude analogies that no doubt many a fan of any of those groups could rightfully skewer me for, but hey, it's my blog.)

Don't want to offend anyone here, but I just want to ask this question: When did Gen Y get old enough to drink, and why didn't someone raise the drinking age when that happened? First off, Saturday night during The Cure, some dumb girl barfed into a big soda cup and left it sitting there, which someone proceeded to knock over just a few feet in front of us. We left for a different spot shortly after that...Then Monday afternoon, some 20-something casanova sitting right behind us was trying to put the moves on some girls and kept blathering on and on and on and talking out his ass (drunk off his ass too) until I finally said, loudly, 'let's go sit somewhere besides right in front of Chatty Cathy here.' We moved downhill, and then he came and sat right next to us and started talking to Kristin, I don't even remember about what but it was more stupid bullshit, until I finally had to ask him to leave after he refused to take the hint. I'm glad he did; I didn't want to have to put some 22 year old moron in a headlock that afternoon, but I was getting to that point. Then there was the guy who loudly bragged about how much "honey" he had deposited into the "Honey Buckets," (the portajohns.) That was another wonderful youth moment. I wonder if I was that guy 10 or 15 years ago. I don't think so. At least I hope not...

The last act I wanted to see was Flight of the Conchords, a musical comedy duo from New Zealand. They've exploded into popularity since the release on DVD of their tv series that features their own well-written, hopelessly goofy songs in the form of parodies of 80's pop videos. Although I did recognize Jermaine Clement from the Outback Steakhouse commercial, I didn't even know who they were until after we had bought the tickets, and my friend Jeanne came over to our house one night and said 'you've got to check these guys out, they're hilarious.' I watched their show and it killed me: they're very talented, masters of sublime Kiwi understatement, and it was a great show all around. So then I found out they were playing Sasquatch, to which I already had tickets, and I knew I had to see them live.

The last two bands on the main stage that night, the Mars Volta and the Flaming Lips, while they both have a number of good songs, K and I decided we could live without seeing them, so we headed back to the shuttle and then to the camp ground. Fortunately someone had left my fleece at the main office of Wild Horse, so I was able to get that before we left, although I really would've liked to have it during The Cure, as I might've stayed for their whole set. Oh well.

That's pretty much it; a long, boring night drive from the Gorge to Portland, and work the next day. This was a good music fest, with a wide variety of bands and many different styles represented. I'll definitely consider going back again, depending on who the groups are. And I'll be back at the Gorge in August for Jack Johnson, another guy I've wanted to see for a long time. That's all folks!


I'm kind of late in posting this, but I heard yet another wonderful performance by In Mulieribus on Sunday, June 8th. You can read that review on Northwest Reverb. I purchased their inaugural cd, Notre Dame de Grace and plan to review that here at Musical Oozings soon. Keep your eye open at Northwest Reverb this winter for a multi-media project that Anna Song and I are planning, which will present photos and audio clips of In Mulieribus performing live.

Also, James Bash is currently at the annual convention of the Music Critics Association of North America in Denver and is publishing regular updates and reviews also at NWR. Interesting reading there.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sasquatch Day 2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

I'm not sure what time it was I rolled out of the tent Sunday morning, but it wasn't by choice: despite the fact that we were (more or less) beneath our canopy, with the residue of the night's moisture and the beating sun, I felt like I was in a sauna and finally had to get out to breathe. A little bleary and slightly hung over (but not terribly so; long gone are the days of blackout drinking for me. That's one of the advantages of being an aging party monkey: I know my limits, and can get there without going over) I made the mandatory trip to Ye Olde Honey Bucket and cracked open the morning brewski and looked at the schedule for the day.

I would have loved to see Tim Meadows in the comedy tent, but knew there was no way I'd be able to be ready in time to get to the fest by 1. Plus, I wanted to chill at our campsite and enjoy some GOOD beer before heading out to the show. Our neighbors to the side of us who had pulled in while we were at the fest Friday night were cool; I do remember one guy's name (Nate) but the rest escape me; I do know they were from Coeur d'Alene. After I whipped out our eggless scramble (i forgot the eggs) consisting of tater tots, pre-cooked sausage links, salt, pepper, tobasco, and some delicious white whiskey cheddar that took forever to cook on our rinky dink stove, we Irished up the old morning coffee and shared with the Idahoans. They had a monster canopy so we sat over there with them for most of the morning, drinking stiff Bloody Marys and just drinking in the delicious weather; more of the high, dark clouds, pregnant with rain, and the same stiff breeze that kept an otherwise muggy day cool and bearable. The air was redolent with the heady scent of cannabis....yep, the summer rock fest was here.

It rained in the early afternoon, and our other neighbors, a rather larger troop from Seattle with no canopy, came over and joined us. There was a guy who had grown up in Detroit and had on a weathered blue t-shirt from the Pistons 1990 NBA Championship (the one where they beat the Blazers) so we reminisced, me talking about how much I hated those Pistons (and Bill Laimbeer in particular) and he took it with the good-nature of a victor acknowledging the grudging respect of a vanquished foe...there was also a voluptuous Italian girl who I immediately developed an infantile crush on (which I immediately confessed to Kristin, who laughed and could immediately see why). I'm sure I impressed her with my extensive knowledge of Italian (mostly consisting of che cazzo fai? ('what the fuck's up?') and voglio vomitare (' I want to barf.')

So most of the late morning--early afternoon was spent in easy conversation with any one of a dozen strangers camped around us. I listened to a lot of Bob Marley's 'From the Vaults,' those old ska and early rock-steady tunes are timeless and I can never get enough of them. We all hid from the rain, bonding with infectious, necessary rapidity in that way that only fests can bring out. Here today, gone tomorrow; I always get a twinge of ennui when leaving my newfound fest friends, to most likely never be seen again. Of course I didn't think to get any photos of these great folks. Oh well.

Kristin and her perfect teeth...

Music for the Day...

Sunday was rather an easier choice for me than Saturday; the Presidents of the United States of America were opening on the Sasquatch stage at 5. Although I'm not a huge fan the way some people are, they have come up with a number of light-hearted, catchy tunes over the years and since I was already here, why the hell not? The only band not playing on the main stage that I'd heard anything of was Rogue Wave, and since I knew them more by reputation than by actual music, we decided to just camp out in front of the main stage all evening. We had made arrangements to meet up with our Idahoan friends on the inside, but it was so noisy that when we called them it was impossible to understand anything, so we never met on the inside. The Presidents were great; how could you not sing along with "Millions of peaches, peaches for me. Millions of peaches, peaches for free." Goofy, fun, and certainly not a group to take themselves too seriously.

Michael Franti and Spearhead were next. I've seen him once before at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, where he's one of the headliners again this year. (This is one of the best reggae festivals you can go to anywhere in the world; I've only gone once but it's probably the best music fest I've ever been to.) He's a legend in the socially conscious hip hop community, and has been doing his thing in various incarnations for a long time now. The sometimes reggae-inspired hip hop and very danceable beats certainly speak to why he's been so popular over the years, but still, I was biding my time.

Death Cab for Cutie came next. I've got a bit of a conflicted relationship with this band. This was the third time I've seen them, and each time I'm less impressed than I was the last. There's no question they can write some good songs, sometimes poppy and catchy, sometimes hauntingly beautfiul, deeply lyrical and oh-so-self-consciously introspective (like any emo band worth its salt) but I'll just say this: Death Cab is not a band that needs to be seen live in order to appreciate their music. My favorite sardonic comment from the weekend was my own, when I said "I don't need to drive 250 miles to be bored by Death Cab for Cutie; I can stay home and do that for free." (And you can be sure I said it loud enough for all around me to appreciate.) I think this is a group that means a lot more to the generation born after mine as a general rule. (God I sound old...) Still, I'll hand it to them: The Sound of Settling and especially I will follow you into the Dark are really, really great songs. Yes, those are their two biggest radio tunes, and no, there aren't many more gold nuggets to be found by mining their LPs. At least not for me. They played right at sunset, and kudos to the schedulers, they were an appropriate warm-up act for the main reason I came to Sasquatch, and that was to see...

Sunset at Sasquatch. Note the two UFOs we captured in the lower portion of the photo.

The Cure

This is another group whose influence on what came after them, and whose worldwide renown and barrel of hit tunes simply cannot be overstated; this group coupled with R.E.M. are what made me say, immediately upon seeing the line-up for this year's festival: "My first Sasquatch will be 2008."

Like so many other things, I came to this band after their big radio smashes in the U.S. following the release of their seminal album Disintegration in 1989. By that point they'd been around for 13 years, since I was 4 years old, and in the years since I discovered them (following the smash hit Love Song that still receives ample radio play,) I've gone back and dug into all their works from the beginning forward. They have definitely been the most enduring of the bands from the post-punk explosion of the late 70s, and they preceded and helped found the Goth rock movement in the 80s, although they seemed to go their own way once they helped germinate the seeds of that genre. Frontman Robert Smith has been a somewhat stern taskmaster with his band, but no one can argue with the results. (My cool cousin made out with him at a seedy punk club in L.A. in the early 80s. This the same cousin who hung out with rock god Perry Farrell and got stoned with Dave Navarro and then made a trip to 7-11 with him to get Slurpees.) The Cure is often known for their gloomy dirges, long, depressing anthems to despair, apathy, self-loathing and loss, but for every song of this type there is another where Smith shouts at the top of his lungs about the glories of love, the heady ecstasy of lust, screaming in his strangely boyish voice and exploding in self-immolating odes to the simple joy of being alive. To focus completely on one type of song or the other is to gouge out one of your eyes when analyzing the music of this band.

Since there's no way I can list one, I'll list a handful of my favorite tunes of theirs: Hot Hot Hot!, Just Like Heaven (yes, that's everyone's favorite and there's a good reason for that), Disintegration, Lovecats, The Caterpillar, Boys Don't Cry, Plainsong, 13th, To Wish Impossible Things (the list goes on and on and on). Invariably there's always a whole horde of people who lambaste all the music that comes after a band's first mainstream commercial success (in this case Disintegration), and who imply that people who don't worship the oldest and/or most obscure and/or least accessible tunes are somehow shallow and johnny-come-latelys (you get this attitude often with image-conscious Cure fans) but to them I say: screw you, there's a reason that certain songs become popular (often, though not always, because they're good) and that doesn't mean a group sucks forever thereafter. In my opinion The Cure got better in the 90s, as Robert Smith matured and appreciation for alternative music grew. I heard some Gen Y chick behind me, explaining to a companion who had never heard of The Cure (I had to shake my head in wonder at that) that "they're, like, the first emo band ever." Kristin and I looked at each other and laughed, but actually from that girl's perspective that probably wasn't a bad way to explain it. She knew how to relate this music in a way that the person she was speaking to would understand.

The Cure rocked long, and they rocked hard. I was especially impressed with drummer Jason Cooper. He busted out solid lick after solid lick, and the percussion for this group's music is incredibly difficult, subtly shaded and nuanced and he nailed it all with machine-like precision. Robert Smith is only as tall as I am but he looked a lot taller (must have been platform shoes) and a lot heavier (hey, he's 49 now) but he looked disturbing and ghoulish as ever: his trademark smeared lipstick, pasty makeup, ratted hair and hollowed-out, blackened eyes were as unsettling as they were when he first took this look (and kept it unchanged ever since) almost 30 years ago. They all looked super cool, like retro demon-ghost rockers from some obscure 80s alt-rock video. They actually were still playing as we left; this night I'd left my fleece on the shuttle and there was no rain but the wind was freezing, it was after midnight, and I'd been drinking (moderately of course) for 12 hours at that point, so it was time to go home. The Cure rule! and I'm glad I finally got to see them.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Thoughts and Thank-Yous re: Cafe Bach

Last Sunday we in the Bach Cantata Choir presented our final event of the year, a fundraiser we called Cafe Bach. It was loads of fun, both for the choir and for the audience who really seemed to enjoy themselves. My colleague James Bash presented his review of the performance here at Northwest Reverb. Great thing about James; though we sing and work on writing projects together, he presents a balanced review: he calls it as he hears it, and I greatly appreciate that. Both from a performance and production standpoint, there were some things that could've gone better. There definitely were some ragged edges here and there, but given our rehearsal schedule (three, including dress, all of them within the last week) and the tight timeline we were presented with, and the myriad challenges in creating a singing cafe for the afternoon, I couldn't be more proud of the way our group came through.

I serve on the board of the BCC with a number of other hard-working folks whose tireless dedication to Bach's music serves as a shining example for me, one that I strive to follow. That coupled with serving on the Cafe Bach subcomittee (or the Koffee Kantata Kommittee as we have jokingly called it), preparing as a singer for the Carmina Burana production with the PSC and OSO, getting ready for re-auditions both with the BCC and the PSC, not to mention the work, family, and personal life that we all have, has really kept me hopping these past few months. Sometimes it can be easy to get mired in one's own work and overlook the incredible efforts of others, at least until the final result is played out right before one's very eyes.

Julie Adams, our leader of the Cafe Bach committee, is not even a member of the BCC and yet she put in countless hours working on everything from fine details such as picking out table cloths and creating a gorgeous menu, to making sure we had enough coffee and taking care of renting and returning carafes and pitchers. She deserves a big round of applause from all who enjoyed our presentation yesterday.

The staff at Rose City Park Presbyterian were extremely helpful and Woody Richen, a BCC board member and member of the church, served as our liaison along with our director Ralph Nelson, and it would not have been possible to do this without them.

Doro Gauer-Lail translated the entire text of two Telemann cantatas from German to English, as well as translated the recipes for the guglhupfs, obsttorte, and schokoladenkuchen (seen throughout this post in that order top to bottom) so that our talented bakers could provide authentic German pastries. In addition, Doro also baked obsttorte herself and coordinated our baking, all this despite having to travel to Malaysia on business in the midst of our preparations.

Grant Huter designed and created by hand and installed all of the decorations, from our gorgeously kitschy tomato-cage baroque chandelier to the glorious JS Bach crest and other adornments behind the stage, and many other things as well.

Sue Nelson coordinated all of the beautiful floral arrangements that adorned our tables, not to mention getting together costumes and baking as well as a myriad other tasks, some of which I'm sure I don't even know about.

Uwe Haefker left 'em rolling in the aisles as our beer-swilling, narcissistic Schoolmaster, and Nan Haemer and Jacob Herbert did no less as the quarrelling Father-Daughter duo in the Coffee Cantata. Thanks also to Byron Wright who brings his beautiful tenor to our BCC productions. Our BCC chamber orchestra performed professionally as always. Elise Groves stepped in at the last minute as our able accompanist, in addition to the many other ways she helped with this project.

Uwe Haefker

Byron Wright

Jacob Herbert and Nan Haemer

My girlfriend Kristin Sterling baked two delicious schokoladenkuchen, designed our mailer, helped set up, serve as an usher, and helped clean-up as well.

And virtually every chorister who sang also did double (or triple, quadruple, quintuple) duties as bakers, servers, cake-cutters, ushers, set-up crew, clean-up crew, etc. Even some choir members who weren't able to sing helped out in other ways or supported us as audience members. Friends and family members of the choir also baked and helped with the above-mentioned tasks. Board member Gail Durham, who wasn't able to attend due to being out of the country, helped us immeasurably with the early planning, and even baked 5 obsttorte before she left town.

And of course no one works harder than our indefatigable leader Ralph Nelson. He brings his many, many talents, in the form of artistic director, conductor, harpsichordist, president of the Board, organizer, coordinator and historian to bear on this immense task we have set ourselves, which is the performance of all of Bach's 250+ cantatas.

My heart was truly warmed watching the efforts of everyone mentioned above both by name or otherwise. This group is dedicated to performing the music of J.S. Bach, and not just to the actual singing: this extends to the very hard and thoughtful work of all the less-than-glorious tasks involved in running a performance ensemble. Everyone rolled up their sleeves yesterday. I'm constantly amazed by the diligence and resourcefulness of the members of this group.

A word needs to be said also for our audience, whose good taste and passion for Bach equal our own. We sold the house out and then some, and that couldn't happen if there weren't so many lovers of this fantastic music in our community. The BCC owes our audience a true debt of gratitude for the moral and financial support we receive.

I'm sure I've forgotten some important people and important tasks; please feel free to shout them out in the comments section after this posting. Once again, to everyone involved in any way, thank you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Interview with Anna Song at Northwest Reverb

Last year, in the midst of the Christmas concert season when I was mind-numbingly busy preparing for the PSC's Wintersong concert as well as the BCC's Christmas Oratorio concert, I decided I really wanted to hear some choral music that wasn't coming out of my own mouth. I'd heard a lot of buzz about In Mulieribus, thanks in part to the strong reception of their first CD, Notre Dame de Grace (which I still haven't bought yet, but I plan to remedy that on Sunday) so I decided to go hear their concert. I'm a huge fan of ancient music, but I'd never heard this kind of music performed live with such flawless, haunting intensity in my entire life. It's incredible to hear music that's a thousand years old presented with such consummate skill and passion that it sounds as fresh and exciting as it must have when it was new. I attend dozens and dozens of concerts every year, and the In Mulieribus concert certainly ranks as one of the top one or two that I heard last year.

I think, being a performer as well as a reviewer, that I tend to gush too much at times when reviewing. Part of that stems from the fact that since I do perform, I can attend a concert that is horrible (fortunately those are very few and far between) and I still appreciate the hard work that goes into it. It's something I need to work on; separating my innate sympathy with the performers from a (hopefully) objective analysis of the performance. But another part of it is that music still infects me like Pixie dust, it's something that can tear me out from my oft incredibly jaded weltanschaauung and fill me with a joie de vivre (how's that for dropping two foreign phrases in one sentence?) in a way that almost nothing else can. At least, music unlocks that sense of wonder in me far more readily than anything else I can think of.

The point of all this rambling being, although I tend to love most of the music I go to hear, In Mulieribus presents amazing music at a skill level that is a true rarity. Anyone who loves or is remotely curious about ancient music should make an effort to hear them. Not to mention that a portion of the proceeds from each concert goes to charity.

I got to interview artistic director Anna Song, and she shed quite a bit of light on their upcoming concert at Northwest Reverb. 'Nuf said; read what Anna has to say, and I hope to see you at the concert Sunday. Get there early if you don't already have tickets; this one may sell out.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sasquatch Music Fest aka A Travesty in Beerland

The summer music fest season begins. For an omnivorous music consumer such as myself, this means many things. The Oregon Bach Festival. Sasquatch Music Festival. Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival. Jack Johnson at the Gorge. Singing the Carmina Burana at the Cascade Music Festival in Bend at the tail end of summer. The warm season brings music outdoors, and for people who love both, it's a heady time of year. For me it's also the offseason musically speaking, in that I get to go and enjoy other people's music instead of constantly practicing, performing, and otherwise being wrapped up in making music myself. And the perfect way to start it off was the Sasquatch Music Festival at the Gorge at George, WA.

Decision time: Should I stay or should I go now?

I've heard about the Gorge for years, lamented the fact that so many bands I love play there and yet I'd never been. The spectacular scenery, the out-of-the-way location, the presence of so many nearby campgrounds, all these things lend to the Gorge the ideal makings of the summer music festival. A few months ago, about a day before the tickets for Sasquatch went on sale, I saw a list of some of the bands that were playing. Specifically five bands that I've been waiting to see for a long time and now here was my chance to see them all in one fell swoop: The Cure, R.E.M. (been wanting to see them for 20 years now), The Breeders, Modest Mouse, and Built to Spill were the main ones. I knew I would hear new bands that I'd love too. So I decided to clear out my calendar and go. Memorial Day weekend: the perfect time to get away.

Fast forward: got the tickets, Kristin and I packed up Friday night (well, she did most of the packing, but I logged some good sessions of Tony Hawk's Underground on the PS2) and we were off early the next morning, flying down the beautiful Columbia River gorge, across the Hwy 97 bridge and into the boring badlands of south-central Washington. Traffic wasn't as bad as I expected; there were no slowdowns until right before the campground entrances, where traffic was backed up for a mile or two. One moron got out of his car, walked about 50 feet out into a farmer's field and took a leak right in front of all those cars. I'm sure the farmer loved someone tramping all over his crops, and thanks a lot for pissing on people's food too, by the way. Yep, the summer rockfest was here.

We camped at Wild Horse, about a half-mile or so from the venue, since we heard the facilities were better and it wasn't quite the party-animal outpost that the main Gorge lot is. Staying up all night loaded and partying was a fun thing to do at the Dead shows a decade and a half ago, but now I'm an old man (35) and I need me sleep. I knew I'd get in plenty of party-time during the day, and wanted to rest at night.

The weather was gorgeous for most of the weekend; we did get some rain on Saturday night, the first night of the fest, but during the day the stiff breezes and high, dark scudding clouds kept the temperature bearable. Set up camp, introduce ourselves to the neighbors, afternoon snooze on the inflatable mattress, and on to the show!

The Travesty Manifests itself

We had to take a shuttle that left at the top and bottom of every hour to get from Wild Horse to the Gorge. After applying liberal amounts of sunscreen and provisioning ourselves with snacks and contraband alcohol (I won't reveal the methods but suffice it to say, we were able to bring in our own booze all 3 days of the festival) we hit the shuttle, and walked the quarter mile from the shuttle depot to the actual venue. Security was more or less a joke; had I been Ayman al-Zawahri or the Unabomber trying to smuggle in explosives, I don't think I'd have had much trouble.

Now, it may seem juvenile to smuggle alcohol in to the show; after all, I'm over 21 and could afford to buy it inside if I wanted. However, I was very glad we'd decided to bring our own in when i saw they were charging $11-$12 for a 24 oz. can of beer! They rape you because they can! The signs said "Foreign" and "Domestic" beers, but the actual selections were far more prosaic than those lofty titles suggest. I had been expecting a wonderful garden of breweriana, given that we do live in the Pacific Northwest, which is known worldwide for brewing at least one or two good beers. No such luck. The best beer available was Heineken, which in my book is the European Budweiser. I brew better beer than that in my kitchen. (Seriously.) The only other foreign beer was Modelo Especial, the Mexican version of Budweiser. Not even any Negra Modelo, which would've been tolerable.

I couldn't find Pabst or Heineken anywhere, even though everyone else seemed to have them. Didn't matter much though; I only shelled out 12 bucks for one can of warm Modelo before I swore off Sasquatch's execrable beer selection and horrifying prices. I'll sit at my campsite and drink the Rogue Mocha Porter, Full Sail Nutbrown and Deschutes Green Lakes Organic ale that I brought with me, thank you very much. Don't blame me if I smuggle in white rum and vodka to mix with Coke and 6-dollar blue raspberry slushies. Eleven dollars for a can of Red Dog. Red Dog, for christ's sake! There's absolutely no excuse for that in the Pacific Northwest. We are accustomed to having more choices than the swill they were offering. Now for a bit of Simpsonian wisdom: as Waylon Smithers said to Monty Burns regarding festivals like this: "It ensures a healthy mix of the wealthy and the ignorant, sir!" Well I'm neither, and I refused to play ball.

It's all about the music anyway...

Now that that's off my chest, I can get down to the real reason for the fest anyway, and that was the music. My main interests Saturday night were The Breeders, Modest Mouse and R.E.M. When we finally got there I was flabbergasted by the expansive view from the top of the field in front of the Sasquatch stage. (There were 3 stages, all of them named after large, hairy beasts: Sasquatch (the main stage), Wookie was secondary, Yeti was the smallest stage. I have no idea where they came up with the hierarchy.) A broad swath of the upper Columbia river stretches out from the natural amphitheater formed by a bowl in the canyon side; the view stretches on for miles of canyons and defiles and broad, golden water bending away out of sight to the north. Absolutely spectacular; I was even more impressed by the scope of the natural beauty there than I expected. The Gorge at George is truly worth the long drive from P-town.

We got settled in a spot on the disconcertingly steep hillside in front of the main stage to listen to a few bands I'd never heard of, but enjoyed. The Fleet Foxes out of Seattle opened with a solemn, gorgeous, four-part a cappella folk tune that was a perfect opener for me. We didn't get there till around 5, and they were filling in for The Nationals (another group I don't know) who couldn't make it for some reason. They played a sometimes interesting, sometimes drab brand of folk-rock that was so quiet at times that I could actually hear the bands from the Yeti stage more clearly than the Foxes. I was a little lazy and too settled-in to make the trek over to the Yeti stage to hear Vince Mira, also from Seattle. But I could hear clearly from where we were sitting, and he seemed to be worth all the buzz about him that I was hearing around me. Apparently he's a slight, unassuming 16-year old Latino kid who opens up and belts out an exact (and I do mean exact) reproduction of Johnny Cash's voice. Absolutely uncanny; listening from my spot at the main stage I was sure that the Man in Black himself had risen from the grave to sing at the Yeti stage with the thundering baritone he wielded in the prime of his life. I will not miss Vince Mira the next time I have a chance to hear him.

The New Pornographers were fun for a while, but I soon got bored of them. (My favorite Canadian bands will always be Rush and The Bare Naked Ladies.) They've got one or two radio hits that I recognized, but really I spent the evening waiting for The Breeders and R.E.M. M.I.A. generated a lot of buzz; Kristin stood in line to get some yakisoba with people who had driven all the way from Ohio for the express purpose of seeing M.I.A., a funky, world-beat electro soul sort of diva who's got a rabid following worldwide. I could detect Latin American, African and South Asian influences in the music. It was brutally loud, infectiously funky, and people really ate it up. The stage show featured a couple of Raggedy Andy looking dancers who were comical but seemed to fit with the cool world jive of the music. I wouldn't rush out to buy the cd, but they were fun to see and it was a good experience.

Modest Mouse presented sort of a dilemma in that they started at 815 on the main stage and The Breederswent on at 845 as the headliners on the Wookie stage. I like Modest Mouse; they have been the uber-darlings of the alternative music scene for the last three or four years and with good reason; they are lyrical, original, imaginative, prolific: in short, very very good. But I've only been a Mouse fan for six years or so, and I've had a sophomoric crush on alt-rock goddess Kim Deal (leader of The Breeders, formerly of The Pixies) for a loooong time now. So the original plan was to see Modest Mouse for a half hour and then migrate to the Wookie stage for the Breeders. I got to hear some of Mouse's radio hits before we headed over to the Wookie stage for Kim & Co. I was kind of chapped that the Breeders started a half hour late; that was a half hour more of Modest Mouse that I could've listened to. Oh well...

I've seen Kim with The Pixies before, and one of the (many) things that really impresses me about her is her easy way with the audience. She has that unique ability to make you feel like she's your old friend, maybe coming with her band to play your house party. She's very comfortable with being in front of crowd; she laughs, smiles, and rocks out with easy aplomb. She cracks corny jokes like talking about how beautiful her lead guitarist Kelly is (Kelly Deal is her identical twin sister.) There was a huge, enthusiastic crowd at the Wookie stage, and once they started playing it was not hard to hear why. Kim's trademark husky, lisping voice that is at the same time girlishly evocative is always a pleasure to hear, and Kelly's backing vocals fit perfectly with Kim's unique sound. Their chops are impeccable, and they played their combination of dreamy old surf rock sounds with bone-crunching metal riffs and distorted, psychedelic ramblings without a hitch. They gave the audience everything they wanted, practically playing their entire album "Last Splash" including their dizzily breathless indie-pop tune Divine Hammer, Roi, and their platinum hit Cannonball. They even went way back to "Pod" for their cover of the Beatles tune Happiness is a Warm Gun. I will always go see Kim whenever I am able, with whatever group she is playing.

If you don't know who R.E.M. is, please, step into the light, and come out from that cave you've been living in for the last 25 years. They are simply one of the most enduring, influential, and powerful acts in the ever-lengthening history of indie music. I've loved them since I was 15 years old; their album Document is simply one of the best rock albums ever. I bought it on cassette and listened to it until it wore out, then bought it again. R.E.M. is ingrained so deeply in my musical consciousness, and has been for so long, that it's hard for me to remember a time when I didn't know their music. I imagine that for alt/indie lovers of my generation, R.E.M. occupies a similar place in my musical pantheon that the Beatles might hold for a similar person born in 1945, only we've had the joy of R.E.M. being together for decades.

It was raining by the time they took the main stage at 10, and I had brilliantly decided to leave my rain gear back at the campsite during the warm, sunny afternoon. No matter; K and I huddled up under our synthetic fleece blanket and waited for the show to begin. Michael Stipe took the stage to thunderous applause, and the show began.

For all the gushing that I've been doing about this group, it may seem kind of surprising that I was a little let down by the show. It certainly wasn't anything the band did wrong: Michael Stipe was a gracious, engaging, intelligent host, the way I knew he would be. He intoned the phrase 'children of the rain' and almost slipped and fell on the stage, recovering with good humor. The band was solid, and they played song after song from their voluminous hit parade, without ever coming close to reaching the bottom. It was more the venue. Maybe it was my fault; I could've gone down to the packed crowd standing in front of the stage, but shivering as I was, I remained huddled under my blanket. I just felt so far removed; R.E.M.'s music is so intimate and personal to me that I wanted to be up close, and instead I felt distant and out of touch. I guess I should've dragged my cold, wet ass down in front of the stage, but that coupled with my crowd paranoia kept me at bay. I will see them again whenever I get the chance. Despite my self-inflicted disillusionment, seeing R.E.M. live felt like visiting an old, familiar friend, and though I somehow didn't get what I wanted from the show, they moved me deeply, as they always have, and always will.

Coming Soon: Sasquatch Sunday: Bloody Marys for Breakfast? Why, I believe I will have one, thanks...

The first ooze... own blog. I've been having a lot of fun posting on James Bash's blog Northwest Reverb. Classical music lovers or those remotely interested in classical music, please check it out: great coverage of the classical music scene specifically in and around Portland, OR, although we do roam further afield from time to time.

But I've come to determine that I need a more informal outlet for my musical musings (musical musings...musical usings...uzings...oozings.) I know; it's a terrible bastardization of a portmanteau word, since a true portmanteau of 'musical' and 'musings' would be simply 'musings,' that doesn't quite work. 'Musical Oozings...' it's self-deprecating, low-brow and vaguely disgusting. In short, the perfect title for me. I overuse elipsis and semi-colons, so get ready for that. I tend to blather, so I guess having a blog is the perfect outlet for me. I don't even expect all my postings to deal with music, although I think most of them will, since I'm a complete music nerd and obsess about it daily.

I've decided to leave my comments un-moderated; we'll see how that goes. Maybe I'll change it if too many annoying assholes hurt my feelings and make me want to go cry in the corner (that is, if any of them bother reading this anyway,) but for now, let the uncensored good times roll! Speaking of uncensored, I feel that way about writing here on my blog as well, so if I occasionally drop the f-bomb or go on a foul tirade, I can only plead, as did Tom Hulce's 'Wolfy' to the Austrian Emperor in Amadeus: "I'm a vulgar man. But, I assure you, my music is not." Well, the vast majority of it anyway...