Tuesday, August 26, 2008

William Byrd Fest Concert Review at NW Reverb

I attended the book-end concerts of the William Byrd Fest and reviewed them at NW Reverb; you can read the review of the final concert here if you'd like.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jack Johnson concert and a long trip

Lake Crescent, Olympic Nat'l Park

After spending a week rambling around the wilds of NW Washington with Kristin and my son, Theo, hiking, biking and canoeing in the Olympic and North Cascades national parks, we landed just outside Quincy, WA. (If you live in Portland and haven't been to these places or aren't planning on going, you're insane. These are incredible, spectacular parks that by virtue of their sheer beauty should be much more popular, but, thankfully, aren't. I put a few photos at the end of this post.)

The last leg of the trip ended in the dry badlands of central Washington for the second time this summer as we pulled into the Wild Horse campground right near The Gorge Amphitheater for surferboy-crooner Jack Johnson's concert. (I blogged about my first visit to the Gorge here in one of my very first postings on this blog.)

The Wild Horse was awash in Jack Johnson music everywhere as we set up camp. My friend Alton got me into Jack years ago, shortly after the release of his first LP Brushfire Fairytales. I appreciated his sometimes deceptively complex guitar lines, his laid back surfer attitude, mellow vocals. It all struck me as very unpretentious. His music seems to be something of an anomaly in the American alternative pop culture landscape: everything is always so ridden with angst, dripping cynicism, bile, venom and hopelessness, that a guy who plays his acoustic guitar and sings about how much he loves his wife seems oddly out of place. There's no denying his wild popularity though; perhaps his popularity is not inspite of, but because he loves life and likes to write mellow, pretty songs to that effect. It's a nice break for me from the angst music mentioned above (which I dearly love.)

I met up with my friends Nate and Joanna from Coeur d'Alene, whom I met at the Sasquatch Fest a couple of months ago, so that was cool. Maybe I was a little burned out from all the gorgeous scenery, but the spectacular beauty of the gorge didn't hit me like it did the first time. The opening band was Rogue Wave, who was also there at the Sasquatch fest. I didn't pay much attention to it; I was really there to hear Jack.

Me 'n Nate the Great @ the Wild Horse...

The first song brought vivid oceanic images to mind: surfing a talcum-blue wave of grumbling reggae bass, I looked out over a sea of cell-phones and cameras sparkling like the bioluminescent eyes of deep-sea dwelling fish. Although Jack's songs are good, I thought the live performance was a little bit lack-luster; they aren't terribly complex tunes, and should have easily translated to a hearty live performance, but somehow that didn't happen in a few instances. Not to say it was bad; I give him points for a number of clever quotations, including The Cars' Just What I Needed and Jimi Hendrix's Remember. I've found I tend to be underwhelmed by certain groups there at the Gorge, even ones I really love. I wasn't disappointed in any way, since it was on the way (more-or-less) home from our summer road trip. I think I need to just go for the party, and have the music be more or less an afterthought. That way, if I'm less than impressed with the performance, there's no disappointment involved. Got to spend a lot of fun time with Kristin and Theo, and that's the most important part. At any rate, it was a good close to the summer for me, since rehearsals and concert seasons start up again in a couple of weeks and the madness of being a classical music performer/writer (on top of a full time job) begins again...

Enjoy some photos of the incredible Washington wilderness.

N. Cascades Nat'l Park

The time for caution is now past...

Dining on the local wildlife. Mm....that's shrew-licious!

Diablo Lake, N. Cascades

Rare sighting of a Dorkus malorkus in the Hoh Rainforest...

Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rainforest, Olympic Nat'l Park

Rialto Beach, Olympic Nat'l Park

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Beer Article up at Primer Magazine

I wrote an article entitled "The Beers I'm Drinking this Summer--and Why." It's published at Primer Magazine this week. A little bit of beer history, and some recommendations for good summer beers. It's getting pinged from other beer blogs, so that's cool. Lemme know what you think!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review of William Byrd Festival at NW Reverb

I attended a spectacular display of keyboard brilliance at the opening of the William Byrd Festival last night, and wrote a review of it here at NW Reverb.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Long Overdue-Portland Waterfront Blues Fest-Photos by Charles Sterling

Well it was almost a month ago, so there's really no excuse for me not having written anything about it other than sheer laziness. I'll let the photos do most of the talking, but I'll just say that the three artists I heard while I was there were all fantastic, both to listen to and to watch perform live. Kristin's dad Chuck is somewhat of a shutterbug, so he took some great photos that I'm happy to share.

I love blues music so much; it's such an unbelievably fertile, uniquely American idiom that has served as the wellspring for so many styles and artists. Ever heard of jazz, rock'n'roll, or hip-hop? Without the blues they never could have existed. I'm not saying anything everyone doesn't already know, just emphasizing (as much for my own sake as anything else) why this music is so important. I think it's safe to say that, if some strange time warp incident were to wipe out blues music, music worldwide over the last century would be irrevocably wounded, unrecognizably different, and immeasurably poorer for its lack.

Enough words! On to the photos!

Gotta love a P-town waterfront music fest...

I had never heard her before, but I was so glad I was there to hear Ruthie Foster, a Texan whose soul/gospel/blues singing was absolutely riveting and honest, with no frills. Here are a couple of great photos of her:

Although I couldn'tt get it to rotate, I think this pic is great and worth turning your laptop sideways to look at.

Here are some pix of Portland's own soul diva Linda Hornbuckle. Her gospel set was nothing short of stunning. (That's the disadvantage of waiting so long to write something, expecially when I wasn't taking any notes. The specifics sort of fade...)

Linda and her gospel choir.

The real reason I came down on this blazing hot Sunday afternoon, however, was to see Phoebe Snow. I've loved her ever since I was a teenager. When I was younger, I always held my oldest sister Karrie as the coolest person in the world. I mean, she has the best taste in everything: music, clothes, movies, food, and always knows a lot about what she likes and thinks intensely about why she likes it (kind of like someone else I know...) She used to have me over to her house and we would go through her large collection of vinyl, listening to record after record. Through her I got into so much good music: The Beach Boys, CCR, Phoebe Snow, Leon Redbone, Taj Mahal, The Crazy 8s, The Fine Young Cannibals (before they got big), not to mention tons of great classical music, most of which she bequeathed to me and I've sadly lost through the years.

Phoebe Snow has such a distinctive voice. She did some jingles in the 80s and 90s after her career slowed down a bit, but she cracked jokes about that during the show, and even sang the Colon Blow jingle from SNL; that is one of my very favorite SNL faux commercials of all time. She sang at least two songs from her self-titled debut album, the one that I am so familiar with through my sister's collection. She sang Poetry Man and Harpo's Blues, and I think maybe one other from her really early years. My favorite songs of hers were always San Francisco Bay Blues and Either or Both, both from that first album with the white cover and the line drawing of Phoebe's face.

Her voice is incredible, not just for the sheer range of it but also because of the magnificent control whether she's in a simmering contralto or soaring in a stratospheric soprano. She just has an amazing instrument, and a keen understanding of how to use it; very unique and stylistic. Kristin's mom Suzie bought me Phoebe's Greatest Hits CD for a birthday present; definitely a great gift.

Some of these pix are sideways. Deal with it; I'm a music nerd, not a computer nerd.

I can still hear the lyrics from Either or Both in my head:

Sometimes my face is so funny, that I hide it behind a book.
Sometimes this face has so much class that I have to take a second look.

Never was a truer word spoken; those lines have stuck with me through my whole life, helping sustain me when I look in the mirror and want to run screaming in terror, and keep me humble when I find myself staring in the mirror at that handsome devil. Speaking of which devil...

Just so we all know I'm not a poseur, I'm living the motto espoused on my t-shirt there; that's a double fist of Deschutes Brewery's Green Lakes Organic Ale

One more good one of Phoebe's and I'm audi 5k.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Grey Anne spins her web at the Towne Lounge

I knew it had been awhile since I tried to park in NWPDX at 9 on a Thursday night as I spent over 30 minutes driving around looking for a spot...thanks in large part to the Beavers game at PGE park. At any rate, I was glad I was late for the Towne Lounge since the show slated to start at 9 didn't get underway until well after 10. I didn't even realize I had been there before until I got inside, and then it all came flooding back to me...it was part of an unfortunate St. Patty's day pub crawl incident a number of years ago which ended up with me passed out in an alley in a puddle of my own barf behind yet another pub I can't possibly remember. Fortunately, I'm much older and wiser now, and those days are long behind me. I'm proud to announce that these days I almost always make it home before I puke and pass out.

Seriously though, it was kind of annoying but what the hell! I'm easily annoyed anyway, 'subtle and quick to anger' as are the Tolkienian wizards. Not that I'm a wizard. Nor always subtle. So here I am sitting around waiting for two bands that I've never heard of before in anxious anticipation of Anne Adams, the echo-looping sorceress whose music I fell in love with upon first hearing at a show at the Doug Fir when she was performing as Per Se. (I reviewed it here if you want more of my impressions of her.) Lots of magic references here...that seems to happen to me when I hear her music.

At any rate, I had to sit through a long lot of boring to mediocre music before she played. I won't write much about that...no question the guys playing had musical skills, it's just that I've heard what they were dishing out so many times before...they were plodding along through very well-tilled soil. I had a bunch of nasty things to say but I just don't have the heart: it was only a $5 show on a Thursday night, these guys are out there pouring their hearts out for a smoky, almost-empty lounge, so it's all good. They were occasionally charming; just mostly rather boring. And the second one (The Friendly Skies) way too loud. Maybe I'm old. Wait a second; no maybe about it. My 36th was just last weekend.

Interesing motif there at the Towne Lounge: good beers in cans. Must be part of the whole contrived hipster working-class affectation thing. Oops, there it is again. I've never drunk Newcastle (one of my favorite brown ales) out of a can before, but I figured 'hell, it's Newcastle; it's gotta be good.' And I was right. Had a couple of cans of Caldera Pale as well, stretched out over the course of the evening; I was the model of restraint. Thursday night drinking bouts usually result in an unlovely Friday for me...

Adams was performing under her stage name Grey Anne that night, so since I'd heard her (only once before) perform as Per Se, I was excited to see what might be different about this performance. First thing was different props: gone were the butterfly/fairy wings, in their place was an immense stuffed white tiger, and for her opening song she sat down on the stage and propped her legs over the big kitty, so that when her beautiful, pure, child-like voice opened up, I suddenly felt like I had been invited into a little girl's room, listening as she sang her dreams and musings. The whole pub, with a small though noisy crowd, suddenly went into rapt silence as Grey Anne began her set. She told the story behind her moniker, but I'm going to keep that to myself. If you want to know, go to her shows. I'm sure she'll repeat the story sometime...

That's not to say that all her music is about delicious whimsy and gossamer fluff. That was another difference between this and the Per Se show; she spoke more, and gave personal details, vignettes about her family; there was more that gave insight into her. She also explained the meaning behind some songs and there was nothing childish or whimsical about them thematically. Since I've only been to one other performance of hers I realize that's no solid basis for comparison, but there it is. Those were the differences I noticed between Per Se and Grey Anne.

She sang two songs that I know by name ('Adelaide' and 'Flapjack Devilfish') along with a couple others I recognized from having heard them before. I'm struck by her original voice, and by that I don't mean her vocal mechanism but her whole poetic/music/lyrical outlook. She loses herself in rhapsodic, spontaneous self-harmonies, using the loop sequencer judiciously and intelligently, and not afraid to start a particular loop over if it isn't what she wants. There may have been only ten people in the room, but (after the obnoxious drunk chicks left) everyone was hanging on every chord change and new verse, drinking it in like wine. I wasn't the only one who found myself, head in hands with a goofy smile on my face as a new song wound on.

I think that's why I like her music so much; it's so nice to have something that gently, yet inexorably and powerfully pulls me out of my well of cynicism and loathing and just lets me breathe for a minute. Music is just about the only thing that can do that for me, and it's got to be special music, and meaningful. Both of her shows I've been to have left me with the distinct impression of being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket, and it's not very often I have that feeling.

I left the Towne Lounge and drove home the same way I do when I drive home from the opera or from a really good symphony performance: no radio, just letting the echoes and memories of the music I've just heard live on as vividly as they can for as long as they can, needing no auditory intrusion to mar the exquisite aftertaste. Things seemed glowing and new, like the same old boring street suddenly viewed through pink shades; the dimming lights of the ball field, the loaded morons staggering loudly down the street, the drunken madman with wild hair, a bushy beard, and ungodly befouled clothes leaning up against a parking meter whispering to it sweet nothings and giving it a kiss as gentle and profound as you've ever seen a man give his lover; it all seemed beautiful.