Category Archives: Music

I Can See It In My Dreams

I had never been to New Orleans before the flood.  My deepest emotional connection to the city has always been Tom Waits’ brilliant ballad, I Wish I Was In New Orleans, which is the song used in the montage above.  I had know particular opinion of the place, except that I wasn’t much interested in the notorious debauchery of Mardi Gras, and I suspect a lot of exaggeration in terms of the seedy, dark side of the city that so many writers have so enthusiastically given their verbiage to.

My good friend Andy, who gave birth to the Do They All Die? series on here, has been living down there for the past year, aiding in the rebuilding project.  It’s hard work, what he’s doing there.  Work that burns out a lot of the people who try to do it.  Andy has signed on for a second year of rebuilding.  We’re proud of him up here in the northeast corridor. He’s been encouraging me to come and visit him in New Orleans all year.  Before that, he spent four years trying to get me visit him in Toronto.  Which I never did.  He called a few weeks ago and explained that he was coming to Philly, and I could hitch a ride down with him, splitting the cost of gas, and then I only needed to pay for a plane ticket back.  I agreed.

We left two Sundays ago, on August 10th.  The plan was to drive to Pittsburgh, spending the night at our friend Jess’ place.  On Monday, we’d drive to Tennessee, having dinner with an acquaintance of Andy’s, and spending the night.  On Tuesday, we’d get into New Orleans.  I’d fly back to Philadelphia at dawn the following Sunday, giving me roughly four and one-half days in the Crescent City.  The plan went off pretty smoothly on Day 1.  I met up with Andy a bit later than hoped, but we made good time to the ‘Burgh.  Jess took the two of to a friend’s birthday party, for free food and drinks.  Andy and I are dazzlingly charming fellows, and somehow, both Jess and the birthday girl, Sarah, were talked into joining us on the trip.  We thought as late as Monday morning that they weren’t coming, and, then, they bought plane tickets.  We decided we were now running late and twice as populated, and thus too much of a burden on some stranger in Tennessee who I can only imagine as being achingly beautiful.  We elected to drive straight from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, a 1200 or so mile drive, getting into town around dawn.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

TC, Sarah, Andy, and Jess.

That’s us there, sometime early on Tuesday, probably somewhere in Tennessee or Alabama, two states in which we spent a lot of time.  Upon arriving, we met up with Maura, Andy’s better half, who made us pancakes as she and her roommate Caitlin prepared to eat their weight in ice cream, later that day.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right.  There were no survivors.

Maura on the left, Caitlin on the right. There were no survivors.

During the day we slept and took it easy.  That night, however, we went to the Maple Leaf, for Rebirth.

Andy had been talking about the Rebirth Brass Band for a while to me, and I was excited.  But to talk about Rebirth to people who haven’t seen it is like trying to explain the Sun to owls.  Rebirth Brass Band are eight or so black men.  They’re dressed like they belong in amateur rap videos.  Flatbilled, crooked hats, wifebeaters, jeans.  The Maple Leaf is dark, but they’re younger than you’d expect a 25 year old band to be.  The youngest members are probably in their 20s, and the oldest are, perhaps, in their 50s.  In the back of the stage stand the drummers, two of them, I believe, and the sousaphoner (sousaphonist?  sousaphone player?).  The front of the stage is all brass.  A couple of trombones, a sax, and a lot of trumpets.  Anyone in the front row may sing, apparently, but singing isn’t really the point of Rebirth.

Rebirth is shockingly loud, for starters.  Our ears rang all the next day.  At times, if you stand close to the stage, the volume is so extraordinary my ears couldn’t handle it, I heard the horns like they were coming through blown speakers.  They are, in fact, unignorable.

They are demanding, as well.  Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf allow no room for dissenters, for the indifferent, for the analytical or critical.  You go, you hear, you dance, and there is nothing else, anywhere.  You are with us, or you are someplace else.  They’re a tradition with all the passion and energy of a revolution.  They’re beautiful like fire.

The next day we awoke slowly.  It was raining, and our plans involved a bit of a tour of the city, so we had nowhere we needed to be.  The tour is a strange thing.  Of course, New Orleans, as a city, post-Katrina, is a strange thing.

New Orleans has a remarkable and distinct identity, geographically and architecturally.  It gets hot, but, at least during the week I was there, the heat was bearable.  As so many have said before, however, it’s not the heat, but the humidity that gets you.  In and around the Bayou, the humidity is so fierce that every time I stepped from an air conditioned building or car, my glasses fogged.  The humidity means it also rains, at least a little bit, just about every day.  The drainage system in New Orleans is absurd.  The rain water falls into a drain, from which is it pumped into the nearby Lake Ponchartrain.  When Katrina hit, Ponchartrain flooded, and the water in New Orleans had nowhere to go.  That, of course, was just one of the problems that others have thoroughly documented.  Anytime a hard rain lasts longer than about 30 minutes in New Orleans, the roads start to flood.

Of course the roads deserve a brief mention.  New Orleans roads might as well be unpaved.  They’re Third World rugged.  They have cracks, bumps, potholes, sinkholes, the works.  Near Andy’s house is a road where the pavement goes up.  Like a reverse-pothole.  You can’t avoid it.  And it’s only about a foot or so tall.

In some ways, New Orleans is like a European city.  It’s not nearly as densely populated, of course.  And not nearly as old as Amsterdam or Paris or London.  But the buildings follow adhere to a style that you don’t really find anywhere else.  And the city gives the impression that these buildings have always been here.  There was never any wild swampland, any plains or forests.  There have always been these brightly colored little shotgun houses, with their ornate column and draperies and shutters, live oaks sprawling above and beside them.

Beyond that sense, the houses themselves are something to behold.  They are, nearly every last one, ornate.  Pictured below here is the Wedding Cake House, as it’s known, on St Charles Street.  The house is immaculate, and its perfect whiteness is, really, the most significant separating feature.  The rest of the New Orleans architecture is similar, albeit, usually smaller, but still with the columns and rails and the rest.  The difference is a certain amount of decay.  Sometimes the paint is chipping.  Sometimes a house almost appears to be leaning.  Some houses are painted so garishly brightly, the owner must be some kind of clown, and yet, the house fits in perfectly.  New Orleans buildings are drunks in tuxedos.  A little bit of mud on the shoes, the tophat is the top punched through, a little stubble on the chin.  Huge trees line every main street in the city, and hanging from some of them, still, are beaded necklaces from February’s Mardi Gras parades.

The city satires respectability, that old-fashioned southern aristocracy is New Orleans favorite joke.

The Wedding Cake House

The Wedding Cake House

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

The parody that is New Orleans architecture.

We took the tour of the destroyed areas of town, which, of course, is what most people back home have been curious to hear about.  So, how is New Orleans, after the storm?  Odd.  A lot of the buildings still have visible waterlines.  In general, the visible waterline is somewhat lower than where the water peaked, as during the storm the water would reach its height, then sink, resting a few feet below the high watermark, and staying at this second line for days or weeks.  So, if you see a watermark five feet high, the water probably reached seven or eight feet.  Many houses still have the spraypainted messages from rescue workers, signaling that a house had been investigated, and what had been found there.  Perhaps no message is more famous or haunting than this one, with 1 Dead in Attic spraypainted on the front of the house.  The resident climbed into his attic to wait out the storm.  When the water rose into it, he couldn’t get out, he drowned.  There are a lot of houses with messages, though, all over the city, but especially in the 8th and 9th wards.  Most are somewhat more abstruse than the bluntness that is 1 Dead in Attic, however.

The Lower 9th Ward has gotten a lot of press, and justifiably.  But it’s hard to explain what it’s like to be there.  There is nothing.  There’s not enough left to even get a good sense of what was destroyed.  All that remains of the Lower 9th are the foundations.  There are few battered houses, signs of rubble, all that.  I remember being in New York after 9/11, and seeing the stunningly large pile of rubble, broken glass and steel and concrete, and being shocked.  Seeing the Lower 9th isn’t like that.  You could drive by it and not realize that there had once been hundreds, thousands of houses there.  There was total destruction.  Utter.  All that remains is grass.  There are a few rebuilt houses there.  A few of them are even occupied now.  And I can only imagine it’s bizarre and even terrifying at times to live within the city limits, with hardly another soul within a mile of you most nights.

New Orleans is unique.  It’s a stunningly poorly run city.  Remarkably corrupt.  Irrepressibly infuriating.  It’s also beautiful.  Dynamic.  It’s alive in a way that few cities can be.  Strangers on the street say hello.  Your next door neighbor is probably dealing drugs, but he’s quiet and friendly as anyone you’ll meet.  There are jazz bands everywhere–at the clubs, on the streets, at the midnight bowling alley.  I could live there, I think.  After all, I live in Philadelphia, so I already have an affinity for flawed, great, American cities.

Post-script:  On Wednesday night, Jess, Sarah, Andy and I were joined by our new friend David, where we went to a bar known as Snake and Jake’s Christmas Lounge.  The place opens up around 9PM, and stays open till the bartenders feel like shutting down.  This is the kind of place that can’t exist just anywhere.  The picture below is what the place looks like during the day.  At night, it’s almost entirely invisible, except that wreath is lit up.  They’ve got Schlitz for $1.50 and the other beer is, I think, $2.  The bathroom has no door.  While I still feel a little dirty from the place, I’m glad such dark, joyful places exist in the world.

Dive Mecca.

Snake and Jakes Christmas Lounge: Dive Mecca.

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Watching the Game, Under Elvis Presley’s Glass-Encased Longjohns

It’s official.  This site has, for the time being, become the Shysterball Wide-Eyed Little Brother blog.  That is, we’ve got another post that comes from a topic brought here by Shysterball, so we’re kinda following the guy around, even though he’s all, “back off, I’m trying to make out with Lady Shyster”, but we’re still, “But Shy-STER, we want to play!”

It’s kind of awesome.

Anyway, Shyster informs us:

New Yankee Stadium is sounding increasingly awful:

A Hard Rock Cafe will open in the new Yankee Stadium.

[…]

You know, if you’re going to install a crappy, kitsch-filled barfatorium like Hard Rock, you should probably at least install a couple of windows so people can watch a ballgame while they eat their $17 Clapton-Burgers.

The comments generally display the kind of disdain for both Hard Rock and the Yankees that you’d expect.  We even lead things off in that department, but as always, got distracted talking about the Phillies and streakers.  People get focused after that, and everyone gives the big Thumb Down to the parties involved.

Honestly, I don’t think the issue here is really that a Hard Rock is going in, though the big name does put the situation into sharp relief.  Many, if not all, of the new ballparks are putting this kind of trashy, money-grabbing crudpub into their stadiums.  In this sense, it’s only appropriate that the Yankees would jump on what is easily the most famous of the available options.

To me, at least, the larger issue is that this isn’t something the Yankees need to be doing.  The Hard Rock will attract upwards of zero people to Yankee stadium, ESPECIALLY during baseball season, when the area will already be crazy crowded.  The Yankees, as others have noted, like to tout their history whenever possible.  Or, at the very least, they enjoy a certain level of esteem as other people tout said history.  More appropriate, I think, would be something with an inherent sense of history and class of its own, that might attract non-ballfans on its own.

My proposal?  Put a jazz club in there.  Open the place up to the stadium with a porch.  Put all those black-and-whites of Babe and DiMaggio and Yogi and the grainy color shots of Guidry and Reggie and, hell, even Jetes, and put a little stage in there for cats both local and famous to bop all night.  Give the bands explicit orders to “lively” stuff.  If you wanna go really crazy with it, look into the local jazz scenes of your opponents, and see if you can book bands from the city the Yanks are playing.  The Reds are coming to Yankee stadium this weekend.  How cool would it be to hang out on a porch at the game, eat a burger, and listen to Petra Van Nuis instead of Cotton-Eyed Joe?  Personally, if the Phillies got rid of McFaddens and allowed us to combine this with this, we might force Mrs Thursday to bury us under the stadium.  Just sayin.

At the very least, it couldn’t be worse than the fucking Hard Rock.

Oh, and thanks to Osmodious for the title.

Maybe if we keep this nonsense up, Shyster will as us to do weekends over there, so we don’t keep ripping him off during the week.  Probably not.

Shysterball: Yankees… Hard Rock… Why, God, Why?

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I Love The Whole World

This is the new Discovery Channel commercial.  It’s less of an advertisement, and more of a reminder that, as they say, “the world is just awesome”.  After watching this, I couldn’t agree more.

Enjoy.

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Man Man: Rabbit Habits

I cannot hear out of my right ear right now, at least, not adequately.  I noticed this particular problem just before midnight last night, while walking east on Spring Garden.  The hearing hasn’t improved, and, sure, part of me is worried about this.  Most of me is irritating by the static whistling in there.  But most of me knows the hearing will return in another day or so.  This is the price you have to pay, sometimes.  Man Man are fucking loud.  It’s popular to compare them to Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart, but, ya know, fuck that.  Beefheart has always been a bluesman, even in the midst of his noisemaking.  Waits and Man Man occasionally chart similar musical terrain, but if Man Man is taking cues from Waits, they’re taking what Waits has done and bringing it to the point of Bacchanalian excess. As a younger man, Waits was a balladeer.  When he got older, he became obsessed with found sound and bizarre percussion, and integrated those sounds into his thematic oeuvre (yes, oeuvre, thank you), with the hookers and loneliness and cigarettes in dank Eastern European bars with carnies at 4AM.  That’s Tom Waits.  Man Man is their own beast.

Man Man deals in heartbreak and melancholy, certainly.  But they wrap it up in the twisted, half-ironic machismo, and frame it all in the violent bravado of the revolution.

Rabbit Habits is the band’s third album, following debut The Man in a Blue Turban With a Face and 2006’s brilliant Six Demon Bag.  In an interview with Pitchfork, Man Man calls Rabbit Habits their “pop album”, which, of course, is appropriate for an album that makes use of fireworks and dogs-barking-in-bathtubs as percussion.  Last night was the album release party at the Starlight Ballroom.  To get everyone really in the mood, someone made the decision to play Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on loop while the previous band (Dirty Projectors) took down their set, and Man Man set up.  Needless to say, after 30 minutes or so of the song on repeat, everyone was in a super mood.

Man Man doesn’t banter during the set.  They don’t say thank you, until the very, very end.  The don’t give song titles.  They don’t give explanation.  They plug in, and bang everything they can reach as hard as they can, as fast as they can, and, impressively enough, in really, really good rhythm.  The band is tight, which is all the more impressive given how insane they are.  Leader singer and synthesizer/piano guy, Honus Honus climbs all over and under his equipment, like he’s looking for something desperately.  Sitting next to him is the drummer, while the rest of the band stands behind the two throughout the show, switching places and instruments. They are relentless and brutal and fantastic.

How is Rabbit Habits?  It’s hard to really talk about an album the day after you first heard it, but, early on, it might now quite measure up to Six Demon Bag, but, in a way, it most resembles the frenetic live show that makes Man Man what they are.  But, hell, it’s still better than everything else out there.

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Session 9 – Beer and Music – The Message in a Bottle

The Sessionis a monthly event in which beer bloggers (and bloggers who just like beer) write about a common beer-related topic on the same day.  This month’s edition of The Session is being hosted by Tomme Arthur, brewmaster for Lost Abbey, and the topic is Beer and Music.  This is our first contribution to The Session.  For the words of more experienced beer writers, head to Tomme’s blog, where all the posts will be rounded up.

The best jukebox in the entire city of Philadelphia is in a non-descript bar at the corner of 22nd and Lombard called Doobie’s.  I know it’s called Doobies, because there’s a little chalkboard that rests outside the bar on nice nights–not too cold, no rain–and it sometimes has the word “Doobie’s” written across its top.  Sometimes.  It’s sort’ve a hole-in-the-wall.  Barely even looks like a business from the outside. 

Walking inside, the place is dark.  Dark wood, dark floors, dark walls.  Until Philly passed the smoking ban within city limits, the place was constantly smoky, too.  Mrs Thursday (before she became Mrs Thursday, hell, even before she became Mr Thursday’s girlfriend) went there first, with a couple of friends, a few years ago.  At the place, she tried a bottle of a beer called Aldaris Porteris, which is a Latvian porter with roasted malts and molasses and all sorts of other, lovely, flavorful stuff.  She adoredit.  It was her first real venture into craft beer, and Aldaris Porteris is about as big a step away from Bud-Miller-Coors as can be made. 

Inevitably, a couple of weeks later, she took me there.  It was just the two of us, and she wanted another Aldaris.  We get to the place around 10PM on a Saturday night.  It’s kinda crowded but there are two seats at the end of the bar.  The jukebox is on the right just as you walk in.  We plan to be there for a bit, and so, before checking out the beer selection, I look to the music. 

Now, normally, I hate jukeboxes.  They almost always contain that same 50 odds albums, most of them things like “I Love the 80s, Vol 3” and “The Best of Elton John” and “Monster Ballads”.  Generally, I can live without the music in your average jukebox.  But, what does this one have?  My personal holy trinity of musical goodness: David Bowie, Elvis Costello, and Tom Waits.  So we pop in a dollar, and sooner or later, “Queen Bitch” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout (Peace Love and Understanding)” and “Big Black Mariah” come floating out across the bar. 

Doobie’s was all out of Aldaris Porteris, but they did have Paulaner Hefe-weizen in 500ml bottles and Yard’s on a handpump, both of which taste great in a dark, smoky, nameless bar.  If that’s the kind of place a girl brings you, Papa Thursday always said to me, you be damn sure you hold onto her tight.

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The Nature of Criticism

John Darnielle recently penned a post on Last Plane to Jakarta which, in turn, was a response to a post Jess Harvell on Idolator which, in its own right, was a response to the multitudinous posts on music blogs praising the glory of the Black Kids, a band that I’ve never heard of. So, just so we know where we stand, the forthcoming post is a response to a response to response to a bunch of statements that I can neither refute nor confirm. Let’s roll.

Both posts deal with criticism–especially music criticism, and most especially online amateur music criticism. Apparently, quite a few blogs (I will not look them up, but I would wager Stereogum and Pitchfork are fine places to start for the more interested), have praised an EP by a band called the Black Kids (maybe The Black Kids, or just Black Kids). I don’t know what they sound like, at all, as the iTunes store doesn’t sell them, and I gave up stealing music once I got a job. They might be great, they might be shit, and it would seem likely that they fall somewhere in between. Given that, to the best of my knowledge, this is their first album, and that the band is composed of fairly young fellows, it’s probably poorly played, poorly produced, and shows that the band has potential to be something special. This makes them very similar to uncounted legions of bands in the US today.

So, music blogs went off about the Black Kids, apparently calling them brilliant or fantastic or the best new band since The Clash, and thus, we have the reaction of Jess Harvell. Harvell astutely points out that the indie music community, in the form of blogs, is insatiable in its appetite for the next big band. Everyone wants to find and declare the genius of “Black Sunrise” before anyone else does. There’s a pride element at work here. Who wouldn’t love to have heard the Beatles before “Please Please Me” was released? Harvell suggests, that, maybe, the music lovin’ online community should slow down with all the hosannas. Not just with the Black Kids, but with all new bands. Most of them aren’t brilliant, and they’re not shit, either, and music reviews should represent that.

Darnielle’s response takes this last idea one step further. Since, after all, reviews are mostly a subjective process, the best reviews shouldn’t aspire to proclaim greatness or inferiority. They should, instead, aspire to accurately describe the music they hear. If that can be done, then the description alone will render the review as positive or negative to the individual reader. No scores or grades, just a clear and appreciate recollection of an album.

Now, this sort of philosophy is at work, to a degree, with the infrequent music reviews done on this site, with the Sine Macula series. The idea behind the series has been to review nothing new–not new to the world, and most certainly not new to me. If had hadn’t owned an album for at least a year, it wasn’t eligible for Sine Macula. This was an effort to curb a misguided enthusiasms for novelties, and for things that declined with repeated experiences–as well as for things that improved with age, so to speak.

This method has been somewhat limiting.  I mostly review music you’ve already heard of because I want to be certain of my reviews, so I take my time listening to the music before I form my opinion.  I like this philosophy though, for not just music crit, but for movies and books and all forms of art.  And so we shall adopt it–farewell to superlatives, and hello to description.  Hopefully, you’ll get a sense of what something is about, what it looks like, what it sounds like, and that alone will be enough to tell you whether to try it for yourself.

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Do They All Die? 9: Once

dtat.jpgFyodor Dostoevsky once wrote, if my memory serves me, in his story White Nights, that all a man really needs in his life are moments. Dostoevsky may have just said “a moment”, but the point he makes is this: the most important things–the only important things–in life, are those brief, fleeting times of perfect joy. Those moments can carry a man.

John Carney’s film, Once, is a movie about such a moment. It takes place over the course of about a week, with your basic “Irishmen in Dublin meets adorable Czech immigrant and they both learn to make wonderful music together”. There is a lot of time spent in the film’s hour and forty minutes on the music. Glen Hansard, whose dayjob is singing lead for The Frames, a band I have never heard before, plays the male protagonist. Markéta Irglová, who is only 19 and thus, probably doesn’t have a dayjob, plays his female counterpart.

Hansard is a street musician and vacuum cleaner repairmen. Irglova is a Czech immigrant, and mother, with a broken vacuum cleaner. And she happens to be a big fan of Hansard’s, and a fairly accomplished pianist. On a whim, he fixes her vacuum and they play some music together, and, it would seem, their stylings jive nicely. There’s no real conflict here–the characters all get along and no one dies and the music is wonderful and all that. Drama isn’t really the point here. Neither is the film a comedy, though it has enough humor, I suppose. It is largely a vehicle for the songs, which are good in that Cat Power/Iron and Wine/Damiens (Jurado and Rice), empassioned folksy music kind of way.  Ya know, it’s earnest.

Likewise, I suppose, is the rest of the movie.  These two people may have nothing else in common outside of music.  Neither lives in a perfect world, but the movie isn’t about Life as Fucking Pain or the misery of bad relationships or death or poverty, or anything like that.  It merely reminds us that, sometimes, everything will come together for one, ephemeral moment of unadulterated happiness.

A marvelous, joy of a film.   Recommended for anyone in need of a reminder of the value of things that don’t last.

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