strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Reviews

Book Review - The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - go ahead and get the flatulence jokes out of the way, you'll feel better. Now, a brief review of one of the most promising first novels to come out in the Fantasy realm in many years. This is the story of the hero Kvothe, through his own eyes.  The story begins with Kvothe, many years after his most famous exploits, under personal exile as a tavern owner. He is recognized by a traveling chronicler who convinces him to tell his story and the telling is where the bulk of this story lies. It's an interesting story device since the juxtaposition between "now" and "then" actually works on multiple levels, slowly revealing important points while adding to the suspense since although we know he must have survived the "then" story, we have no idea where the "now" story may finish.

Kvothe begins life as member of a traveling group of actors and minstrels.  He possesses a tremendous gift for learning all manner of things quickly and is well trained in a variety of disciplines by his parents and other members of his troupe. His troupes chance encounter with a former member of the Arcanum (a higher order within the University, the realms highest center of magical and scientific learning) exposes young Kvothe to a wealth of new knowledge, some of which is very dangerous. Partially learning the "name of the wind" is one of the most difficult and dangerous bits of knowledge he is exposed to by the Arcanist.  His idyllic childhood is abruptly interrupted by a tragic event which will shape the arc of his subsequent life. He eventually finds his way to the University and the story concludes with him still a student. Along the way are many trials and tribulations, friends, enemies, arcane knowledge, scientific discoveries, all told in a first person narration style that draws you completely into the story.

This is one those books that you read in a few sittings and decide to skip television and the internet for a few days until you finish it. Sadly, the second novel isn't due for release until March 2011 which means it will probably be 2015 or later before the series concludes. This is just a very satisfying read; Kvothe is a very appealing character who is equal parts brilliant, brave, funny, shy and ultimately is a very convincing, complex character that isn't the typical cutout hero. Fans of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan will eat this up and even J.K. Rowling fans who want something more adult will enjoy this as well. Highly recommended.

Belated Rush Reviews…

It's been nearly a month since I saw Rush in Houston and Austin on a Saturday and the following Wednesday (Apr 19/23rd).  The delay is more work/life related on my part than a lack of desire to post a review.  Both shows were great, and I won't post as detailed a review as from last August as the show was mostly the same with the exception of a few set list changes and a new video before the second set.  I am probably in the minority of people who aren't as happy with the set list changes because I really was happy to hear Entre Nous and Circumstances as I had never heard them live before (and they are both great tunes).  They decided to go back to a few classic staples since this second leg was hitting several cities that hadn't been on the tour itinerary in several years.  The other deletions are Secret Touch and Distant Early Warning. I'm a big fan of Vapor Trails (and Snakes & Ladders) so I was also disappointed for them to remove Secret Touch. 

 I recently read Neil Peart's book "Ghost Rider" which took place in the interval between the death of his daughter & wife (both occurring within a year's span) and details how he rode his motorcycle for thousands of miles over the next few years as part of his recovery process. In the text of the book are many literary references, but the main focus of the book is sort of an autobiographical travelogue with intermittent flashes of his grieving process in the form of narrative as well as reprints of many letters he wrote during that time. Dispersed throughout the tome are several slices of what would eventually turn into the lyrics of the next album (VT). After reading it I gained a new appreciation for many of these songs (as well as his lyrics in general).  Gives me a new level of disgust at the blogger who ranked him (Neil) as the second worst Rock lyricist of all time. 

Here's the new setlist:

 

Setlist:

Video Intro (features all 3 band members)
Limelight
Digital Man
Ghost of a Chance
Mission
Freewill
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl (with McKenzie Brothers intro)
Red Barchetta
The Trees
Between The Wheels
Dreamline

Intermission

Video Intro (What's That Smell? features all 3 members, Jerry Stiller)
Far Cry
Workin' Them Angels
Armor And Sword
Spindrift
The Way The Wind Blows
Subdivisions
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Malignant Narcissism
Drum Solo
Hope
The Spirit of Radio
2112: Overture / The Temples of Syrinx
Tom Sawyer (with South Park intro)

Encore:

One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok
YYZ
Video Outro (Alex, Neil, Jerry Stiller)

It was great to see them, especially in Austin. They played the Frank Erwin Center in the theatre setup which seats about 8000 total. The acoustics and the intimacy of the indoor environment allowed for a perfect live setting.  I think it will be better to space the shows apart because the novelty did wear a little bit since it had only been 5 days between shows. I think the perfect schedule would be to see them about three times per tour with at least a month between shows. I would also try and see them in as different an environment as possible. I think for the next tour (I feel like they have at least another album/tour in them) I will try to see them somewhere like Red Rocks or The Gorge in Washington, Vegas, and somewhere in Texas. 

Concert Review - Rush in Dallas, 8/11/07

Rush returned to Smirnoff Music Centre in Dallas after a 3 year hiatus following the 2004 30th Anniversary tour.  They performed in support of their most recent studio album Snakes and Arrows, their 18th studio album (I don't count Feedback) and first new release since 2002's Vapor Trails. They brought the monstrosity that is a Rush tour in it's full glory to the stage for over 3 hours of proggy splendiferousness. (feel free to quote me there). 

Featuring the standard Rush show of lights, video, ear crushing decibel levels, rotisserie chicken (wah?) and fricking laser beams, there was something for everyone. (don't forget you can't get something for nothing, though) (sorry, couldn't help it).  They opened the show with the perennial favorite Limelight (bookending with the last tour as this was the previous closer) and brought back some deeper album cuts including Digital Man and Entre Nous, followed by Mission and Freewill before introducing some new material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first new cut was the instrumental The Main Monkey Business which featured videos of monkeys and various other primates performing chucklelicous tasks like talking on the phone and driving a car (looking like the old film reels you've probably seen before) whilst a couple of the crew chefs came out and basted the rotisserie chickens. Yes, chickens. This year Geddy decided to escalate the superfluous gear arms race by replacing the dryers and rotating vending machine with three separate full size rotisserie chicken ovens like you would see at a restaurant. And yes, they were miced. Apparently he's no longer satisfied with the warm/dry tone and wanted a little more gristle and grease in his signal path. (lest we forget, talking about tone is akin to swimming about politics)

This was followed by The Larger Bowl from Snakes & Arrows and then Secret Touch from Vapor Trails. That led to a very deep cut in Circumstances from Hemispheres which I know hasn't been played in a long time, if ever. Next was my favorite Grace Under Pressure tune, Between the Wheels and then the set was closed out by Dreamline, which is one of the standouts off Roll the Bones.

Another amusing moment from the first set was about halfway into Limelight when Alex got a chance to see the little board babes (barbie dolls placed down by his pedals holding up post it notes like they were signs). The generally describe acts that are illegal in most countries or make salient observations you would expect from a groupie. I think the crew members make new batches up every night.  As is typical, he was laughing until he had to focus on the solo. I hope someone is keeping a track of these messages as the ones I have seen are pretty funny. Examples are listed below.

After the intermission, they returned with a mini-set of all new material including Far Cry, Working them Angels, Armor & Sword, Spindrift, and The Way the Wind Blows.  The pictures in Angels were especially moving, featuring people from various walks of life like construction workers, janitors, waitresses, nurses, and soldiers all with pairs of angel wings on their backs. All of the new material sounded even better live and got a really positive response from the crowd.  After the new material they dipped back into the vault with Subdivisions, Natural Science, and Witch Hunt before returning to the new album with an instrumental section including Malignant Narcissim, the drum solo, and Hope.  PGA tour Rocco Mediate (who had been checking out the stage pre-show, and gave me a very puzzled look when I shouted his name) came out to perform the chefly duties wearing a Rush baseball shirt and the chef's hat, of course.

They closed out the second set with Distant Early Warning, Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer Tom Sawyer included an intro by the South Park kids with Cartman portraying Geddy Lee on the keyboards totally screwing up the lyrics. It was hilarious. There's a clip of that below as well. They came out for one encore, starting with One Little Victory (including that darn dragon and his flamethrowers), A Passage to Bangkok, and closing the show with YYZ.

From a technical standpoint the show went very well. There were no major equipment or performance problems and the sound was good to my ears which were admittedly overloaded in the second row. I'm sure the best sound was in the second tier of seats near the middle. It's always a trade off between a good view and a good sound mix. All three players performed superbly as expected and they still seem to be enjoying themselves putting on these shows. We had an excellent view of the whole stage from the second row on Alex's side and I was able to feast on the fretboard as much as I desired. The front row center got all the picks though. Bastards.

My overall impression of this show is much the same as the R30 show in that Rush is putting on the most complete show of their career and easily one of the best concert experiences anywhere in the world. They manage to combine overpowering sound, lights, video, lazers, smoke, snakes, dragons, humor, a deep set list, and just the force of their wills upon the audience of twenty thousand. I feel truly lucky that these guys still love to write, record and perform music and share it with their fans. Their love of music is what keeps them in the business more than thirty years since they started. I highly doubt there are any financial considerations at all, except perhaps to continue funding their ability to make music in the future.

Geddy closed the show out by saying "I hope we can see you guys again sometime", which I am hoping means they still feel like they have something to offer by returning to the studio and subsequently the stage in the future. No one could fault them for retiring after all they have accomplished in their careers, and we can at least live with the knowledge that we have their very large selection of DVDs and albums to relive the live experience as many times as we want in the future. Something tells me they're not done yet, though. Here's hoping.

 

Gear:

Alex: He played a variety of Les Pauls, the Gibson Howard Roberts, his iconic White Gibson ES-355 (rumor says a Gibson signature model is in works), various Garrison Acoustics including 6 and 12 strings, and a Mandola. His Les Pauls were outfitted in some cases with tremolos and piezo pickups. His Howard Roberts also had a piezo in it as well. His amps were all Hughes & Kettners with two Alex Lifeson Triamp MKII double stacks in the middle, flanked on either side by Switchblade double stacks. His rack mount was turned away from the stage front and his pedals on the floor weren't visible but I have it on good authority (i.e., guitar player) that he was using a Dunlop DCR-ISR Crybaby Rack wah, TC Electronic 1210 Spatial Expander & Stereo Chorus/Flanger, TC Electronic G-Force multi-effects processors (3) with 1 spare, and Voodoo Lab GCX switchers. He may have added a Loft chorus (the actual one used on Limelight). At his feet were the Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Dunlop DCR-1FC foot controller, an Axess Electronics FX1 MIDI Foot controller, Korg MPK 180 Bass pedals, and a Boss TU-12H Tuner. 

Geddy: Used mainly his black Jazz Bass (which may have been the original '72 or one of his signatures), a red Fender Jazz, the Jaco Pastorius signature (fretted and fretless, respectively) and the Rickenbacker. His onstage amplification was courtesy of the henhouse rotisserie ovens (3). 

His official list from the tour book:

Guitars
1972 Fender Jazz bass
Fender Jazz Geddy Lee model
Fender Jazz Custom Shop bass
Fender Jaco Pastorius Tribute fretless bass
Fender Jaco Pastorius Tribute Custom Shop fretted version
Garrison acoustic guitars

Amplification
Avalon direct boxes, model U5
SansAmp RPM pre-amps
Palmer speaker simulator, model PDI-05
Trace Elliot Quatra valve amps
Sampson UR-5D wireless system

Keyboards and Samplers
Roland XV-5080 sampler/ synthesizers
Roland Fantom-X7 synthesizer
Moog Little Fatty digital synthesizer
Korg MIDI pedals

Neal: He played his "Snakes & Arrows" custom kit made by the Drum Workshop and described in detail in the tour book. It was the typical Neal monstrosity setup of acoustic drums, percussion, cymbals and electronic drums/pads. 

 

The detailed set list/equipment blow by blow: (equipment listed as it changes. if nothing is listed they played the same gear from the previous song)

1. Limelight: Alex - Gibson LP Standard Honey Burst with tremolo, Geddy - Fender Jazz Bass Black

2. Digital Man: same

3. Entre Nous: Alex - Gibson LP Goldtop, 12 String Garrison acoustic

4. Mission: Alex - Gibson LP Tobacco Sunburst

5. Freewill: same

6. The Main Monkey Business: Alex - Gibson LP Goldtop

7. The Larger Bowl: Alex - Gibson LP Tobacco Sunburst (with piezo)

8. Secret Touch: Alex - Gibson LP Black Beauty with tremolo, Geddy - Red Jazz Bass

9. Circumstances: same

10. Between the Wheels: Geddy - Jaco Pastorius Fretted Jazz Bass

11. Dreamline: Alex - LP Honey Burst with tremolo, Geddy - Black Jazz Bass

Intermission 

12. Far Cry: Alex - LP Cherry Sunburst

13. Working Them Angels: Alex - LP Cherry SB with Piezo, Mandolin with shubb capo

14. Armor & Sword: same

15. Spindrift: same

16. The Way the Wind Blows: Alex - Gibson Howard Roberts with piezo

17. Subdivisions: Alex - LP Cherry Sunburst

18. Natural Science: Alex - LP Honey Burst with tremolo

19. Witch Hunt: same

20. Malignant Narcissim: Geddy - Jaco Pastorious Fretless Jazz Bass

21. Drum Solo

22. Hope: Alex - Garrison 12 String

23. Distant Early Warning: Alex - LP Honey Burst with tremolo, Geddy - Black Jazz Bass

24. The Spirit of Radio: same

25. Tom Sawyer: same

Encore

26. One Little Victory: Alex - Gibson ES-355 White

27. A Passage to Bangkok: Geddy - Black Rickenbacker

28. YYZ: Geddy - Black Jazz Bass

 

Here are some additional show notes taken from 2112.net that further explain some show features better than I did:

 

  • The opening video begins with a dream sequence of Snakes and Arrows images, then Alex sits up in bed, saying, "Snakes? Who would dream about snakes, that's so creepy. Honey? Honey - wake up. I had this weirdest dream, it was a snake…" then the person lying next to him sits up and its Neil. They look at each other and yell in surpise and yell 'AHHHHHHHHHHH!", then after another sequence, Geddy wakes up in a chair and says "What did they do to my food?" and then in walks an old man in a Scottish kilt who speaks with a Scottish accent who tells Geddy he doesn't care how he is feeling, to "…wipe that chicken off your face and get out there!" after which they which they all ran out. The guy in the Scottish costume is actually Geddy, dressed in make up and wig. At the end of the show, another video of Scottish Geddy plays, where he tells people to go home because he wants to get back to eating his chicken.
  • The video intro for the second set is all Alex in rare, comical form, playing several characters on the Snakes and Arrows Leela board. The board shifts around the screen and highlights certain lines to which Alex pops up and executes typical Alex rants.
  • There is a video of Bob & Doug McKenzie to introduce "The Larger Bowl"; "The Larger Bowl" has video snippets showing alternating images between the rich and the poor, etc. Towards the end you see iron gates on 2 screens, but as they focus in on the buildings behind them you see that one is a mansion and the other is a prison.
  • Alex plays a mandola mounted on an Omega stand during "Workin' Them Angels"; "Workin' Them Angels" had a video accompaniment similar to the album art of various types of workers and soldiers with angel wings.
  • There is a South Park video intro to Tom Sawyer; during the video, the South Park characters begin playing Tom Sawyer but Cartman sings the wrong lyrics, "…floated down the river on a raft with a black guy", which leads to an argument with Cartman saying he's read the book and that's how the story goes, but the other quickly corrects him saying "that's Huckleberry Finn, stupid!". Cartman then says "I am Geddy Lee! And I will sing whatever lyrics I want!". They then start again to count off the beginning where Rush takes over and plays.
  • During "A Passage To Bangkok", a video plays showing footage of far east trains, poppy fields, marijuana plants and many other scenes related to the lyrics. (including reefer madness clips of stoned teens during the 50s)
  • "Digital Man" has a new arrangement, missing the first "He's got a force field" lyric.
  • The drum solo has been completely revamped. Neil has a slew of new marimba samples, which give the middle section including the "Momo's Dance Party" part an Oriental percussion feel (the "Scars" and "Pieces of Eight" sections have been dropped). Instead of "One O'clock Jump", the solo now includes a complete big band triggered sample of "Cotton Tail", which Neil performed with the Buddy Rich Band on Burning for Buddy Vol. I.
  • Geddy Lee is playing his 4001 Rickenbacker bass on stage for the first time in 25 years (last seen on the Signals tour).
  • Geddy Lee is using a minature Snakes & Arrows drum as a cup holder!
  • There are multiple "Barbie Doll" groupies standing on stage in front of Alex Lifeson, holding "Post-It" signs with various sayings on them, apparently created by the roadies. Sayings have included: "I Like The Drummer", "My Grampa Says Your Cool", "Can I Roll Your Bones?", "I'm A Dino-Whore AKA Suckasaurass", "I Was Conceived While My Dad Was At A Rush Concert", "I'm Not Wearing Any Panties", "My Mom Thinks Your Hot!", "I'm Only Doing This To Pay For College", "Freebird!", "I Thought ZZ Top Had Beards", "Bass Player's Cute! Is That His Real Nose?", "I Golf Naked", "Nice Dinosaurs-You Must Be A Caveman", "If It's Too Loud You're Too Old"

Finally, a few links to fan vids taken during the show:

 

 

                                                          Intro sequence and Limelight

 

                                                          South Park Intro to Tom Sawyer

 

                                                          Bob & Doug's Intro to The Larger Bowl

 

                                                          A small excerpt from Malignant Narcissism

 

                                                            A Passage to Bangkok

 

 



Concert Review - Police in Dallas June 26/27th 2007

The Police returned to the stage on their reunion tour for the first time in over twenty years and we were fortunate enough to catch them both nights in Dallas. Playing to a sold out crowd in American Airlines Center, they offered songs from their entire catalog with a pretty comprehensive set list. The band was energetic, played well and Sting is still managing to hit the high notes (evenon Roxanne) without any serious difficulty. The songs mostly featured slight to large modifications in key, tempo, improvisation or a combination of the three.  In most cases the songs stayed true enough to the original to please the purists and I found myself liking them more on the second night. 

There a few exceptions where I think the original flavor of the song was lost, especially in a song like De Do Do Do where Andy changed the chorus guitar to more of a punkish barre chord version and I really preferred it the original way. Kinda took the Andy out of that song in my opinion. The band stretched out and let Andy take fairly frequent solos and Sting engaged the crowd in the standard call/response he is known for. It may be subjective, but I really think the second night crowd was more energetic as well as knowledgable (it may have been the difference of 1st tier seats the first night compared to 17th row floor on the second as well).  The view on the second night was definitely better in our case. We were close enough to see facial expressions and what the fingers on the instruments were doing.  

The band stuck to the reliables in the equipment area with Sting playing his old Fender Precision (it may have been a re-issue), Andy playing a red Stratocaster (swapped out once with an identical model that was capoed on the 2nd fret), and Stewart had his typical full complement of Tama drums and additional percussion on a riser in the back.  Andy had a very geometric appearing set of Mesa Boogies in a mixture of rectangular and square cabinets that appeared custom designed just to allow them to make an interesting stack configuration, otherwise I can't really say what the logic may have been. The same went for Sting and his Ampeg amps. Looked cool, anyway.

The show featured a fairly sparse stage setup with the only enhancements being a set of stairs that encircled the entire back half of the stage and allowed the players to walk up behind the drum kit and interact with the seats behind the stage (yes, those were sold out too).  On the video side they had three very large screens up near the ceiling in the front, one on each side and one in the back so that everyone had a decent view of the band no matter where they were seated. Below the screens was a sort of colored display board like you see in sporting events that was used to display various mood centric and album related color schemes. That along with a modest lighting scheme added to the overall ambiance very well. The video screens mostly showed the players but occasionally featured song specific videos like for Invisible Sun. They updated the context of this song by showing what appeared to be mostly Iraqi children. Funny how the song is still very applicable today, over twenty years later. Not to mention Driven to Tears.

Note on these pictures: I didn't try taking a camera in so I have copied these from other users on Flickr. Most of them are actually from the the two Dallas shows.

 

Set List:

  • Message in a Bottle
  • Synchronicity 2
  • Walking on the Moon
  • Voices in my Head (short intro)
  • When the World is Running Down
  • Don't Stand so Close to Me
  • Driven to Tears
  • The Bed's Too Big Without You
  • Truth Hits Everybody
  • Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
  • Wrapped Around Your Finger
  • De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
  • Invisible Sun
  • Walking in Your Footsteps
  • Can't Stand Losing You
  • Roxanne

      Encore 

  • King of Pain
  • So Lonely
  • Every Breath You Take
  • Next to You

 

We really liked the opening band, Fiction Plane. They were enjoyable the first night and even better the second since we were a little more familiar with their tunes. Featuring a similar setup to the Police (Trio with the bassist as singer) they are clearly influenced by groups like U2 and the Police with a healthy dose of reggae in the beat. I found out later that the singer/bassist is actually Sting's son (wonder if they would have gotten the gig otherwise?) who actually follows in his dad's footsteps fairly well. His vocal range is a bit lower than Sting's but otherwise pretty similar in all respects. I liked them well enough that I have bought their album "Left Side of the Brain" and I really like it. 


 

 

Concert Review - Eric Johnson in Little Rock, June 14 2007

EJ with RB & TT

Eric played Juanita’s restaurant/club in Little Rock, which I think has become a running summer gig for him as this is at least the 3rd year in a row he’s played here. We got here early again like last year and I made sure I posted myself in front of his mic/pedals for the next 1:45 until the show started. It was worth it as I was able to stand about 5 feet away for the whole show.

Eric’s stage and pedal setup is the standard that most of us have seen. It’s really not much different from the guitar geek circa 2001 diagram, although specific models may change he’s still using the same sorts of pedals, etc. In the amp dept. he had the two Fender Twins and the Marshall double stack with apparently new Hendrix signature heads based on other reports, although I couldn’t see well enough to tell (wouldn’t know what I was looking for from a distance anyway). He didn’t have the Allen/Heath mixer on stage this year, but he did have a couple of echoplexes on the floor (which I didn’t see last year, but they could have been obstructed by the mixer).

I couldn’t figure out all his pedals but he did have the memory man, fuzz face, a Radial Tonebone Tube Overdrive that was labeled as an “Eric Johnson Custom” and looked like a modified classic model by the coloring/size. He had a small mxr pedal with script text that may have been a phase 90 but I couldn’t read it well enough; a TC electronic chorus/flanger, the cry baby, and the multitude of a/b boxes. He had another pedal sitting over by his jbl eon monitor (stage right) that may have been the chandler tube driver but I couldn’t see it well enough to tell. I may be leaving one or two things out here.

He played the black signature model for the whole set except for the three song acoustic set in which he played his Martin EJ signature model. He used his Dunlop Jazz III picks for the whole show as far as I could tell. It was nice and loud again although I think I benefited by not being in the direct axis of the amps this time (they were aimed a little more off center this time). I still think the bass was mixed too loud, but it may have been where I was standing. Eric’s tone was a little lost in the mix for me. I brought my earplugs but never felt like I needed them, and they would have just accentuated the bass more so I left them in my pocket.

EJ Acoustic

Performance:

Set list (there may be an omission or two and the song order may be a bit out of sequence, but it’s relatively close as I tried to write these down during the set):

  1. Soulful terrain - great opener, just a classic EJ tune
  2. My Back Pages
  3. Trademark - he opened this by joking about the show featuring jugglers, acrobats, monkeys, and snake oil salesmen. He then alluded to how that was what this song was about but I think I may have missed something
  4. Country - (the unnamed as yet instrumental) commented on how they had seen George Jones’ tour bus and it got them in the mood for some country
  5. Morning Sun - my sequence may be slightly out of order here
  6. Brilliant Room - i think he introduced this by saying they had just finished recording this at home and he hoped they would be releasing the album in the next 6-7 years (he was joking). he said they hoped to have a new album out “soon” (so, that means 2-3 years probably :) )
  7. Manhattan - very well played, and I was glad to hear it as he didn’t play it last year
  8. Dusty - beginning of three song solo acoustc set
  9. Song for Life
  10. Once Upon a Time in Texas (?) - hadn’t heard that before, but I think that is right. This set was played on the Martin EJ signature and he sounded fantastic. I was thrilled to see him play Dusty from that close and those of us in front we’re probably the only ones who could really see what he was playing as he was sitting down. Unfortunately the crowd was well inebriated and growing restless during the set so I don’t know if he’ll want to continue this.
  11. Columbia
  12. New Song - couldn’t understand him when he said the name, but I liked it.
  13. SRV
  14. Austin - great tune, beautiful chord changes and a great melody, I hope it appears on the next album. He played the coolest arpeggio sequence during the solo.
  15. Desert Rose - he had played fast all night but I guess he was warmed up at this point because he was really wailing on this guitar solo, although I know he typically really goes for it on this one
  16. Guitar Solo - similar start to last year with a very beautiful slow intro with some great melodic chord changes with a clean, warm tone which eventually fused into a faster portion with a little overdriven but more punchy and not so sustained tone which eventually culminated in the classic lead tone and the intro to Cliffs. I’m not sure but I think he cut off early because he faced Tommy Taylor (who had been playing some light percussion as texture) and waved his arms out to the side like he was saying stop. He started playing a more lead tone and it looked like Roscoe had to hurry to get his bass back on and get ready for Cliffs
  17. Cliffs Of Dover
  18. (Encores)Spanish Castle Magic - very extended jam and Eric and Roscoe had some great interplay where it looked like they were goading each other on a bit. Whatever problem he had during the guitar solo seemed to have been forgotten by the end.
  19. Righteous

The show was a little shorter this year with a few less encores, but I think it ended up running about 1:40 total. Tommy and Roscoe both played fantastically as usual. I apologize to them both in admitting that as a guitarist I can’t resist the call of Eric’s fingers on the fretboard, but I did try and pay a little more attention to their playing this year. The only downers were the people who were there more to party than to listen to a great band. I had a drunk middle aged woman behind me who tried to shove her way to the front and then was upset because no one wanted to let her up (everyone up there had been standing there for almost two hours to reserve their spot. She would periodically let out a scream which just showed that she wasn’t listening at all to what was being played. Unfortunately about half the crowd was that way. There was one guy who held up a napkin which said “Play Cliffs of Dover”, which he unfortunately held up right after Eric had played Cliffs. Don’t know if he was so drunk he didn’t realize what he had just heard or if he was that clueless about EJ. I don’t know if EJ and the guys cared about that or if it made a difference. It was still a great show and they all played fantastic. I think Eric said they would come back next year. (the two pics are from the Birmingham show the next night, courtesy of ByTor1975 from the EJ forum. I didn't bring my camera, so this as close a pic as I have now. The biggest difference is the stage there is a bit more roomy than Juanita's).

Concert Review - Norah Jones in Little Rock, June 7 2007

We saw Norah at Robinson Center Music Hall in Little Rock last night, and came away impressed.  She brought the cast of regulars with Adam Levy on guitar, Lee Alexander on Bass, Andy Borger on drums, and Daru Ota on nearly everything else.  She opened her set solo, singing a more West Texasish version of "Come Away With Me" while playing a red Fender Mustang through a Fender Princeton amp.  It was a statement of confidence in her ability to play guitar that she would start off that way, although the band did join in after the first verse.  She continued with "Those Sweet Words" another favorite of ours from her second album before launching into several songs from her new album with the occasional tune from her first two albums thrown into the mix.

Norah with Mustang

Many of the older songs have been altered like the aforementioned opener, which is a characteristic of many bands with jazz backgrounds. Underneath the pop pinnings and glamorous looks, she is really a player and has a great band to back her up.  "I've Got to See You Again" was even more jazz-centric and featured her spreading her improvisational wings on the keys. All the players impressed, but we were especially captivated by the versatility of Daru Ota. We had seen this same lineup in OKC in 2004, and at that time she mainly provided backing vocals and the occasional incidental percussion (at least as far as I remember it). This time she played bass (very well, mind) on several songs, as well as keyboards, flute, percussion and of course vocals. She reminded me of one of the multi-instrumentalists in Pat Metheny's band that has to cover all the additional instruments that the others can't. 

The band shined as usual with Lee Alexander holding the bottom line on electric and acoustic bass as well as several songs on guitar. Andy Borger was predictably good and added some variety to the mix with vibes and some other percussion. Adam Levy was usually his understated self but let go with some Scotty Moore-ish wailing on "Creepin In".  I wish he would do that more often, but I guess his style is primarily understatement. 

In all aspects Norah was even more polished, confident, and articulate than when we last saw her. And she was great then.  Her voice was full, pristine and mesmerizing during the whole show. She is more and more willing to stretch out and improvise the melodies as time passes without falling into the diva trap (vibrato, ridiculous scales up and down) so common with popular singers.  She was very competent on guitar and got a very pure fender tone out of her equipment. She shined on keys, mostly piano with a little Fender Rhodes thrown in.  During "Election Day" (the melancholy anti-dubya tune which got a lot of approval and laughter) they brought out a tiny little piano that set on top of her Yamaha, and she played a few lines on it while playing chords on the full size. It added a little sonic cheekiness as well as displaying her talents without showing off too much.

I should also mention that the production was spot on. Everything from the sound mix (with the exception of about 30 seconds of fender amp distortion/moodiness) to the lighting to the stage design was excellent. The stage design/lighting did a great job of conveying the moods of the songs. I recall one tune where they had the band in monochrome grayish spots and they doubled the same spot on Norah while she was also lit from a foot spot that was orange. It made her more three dimensional against the silhouettes of the band. These kinds of techniques were continuous throughout the show and really help set the mood. Concert production has really advanced in the time frame since I first started attending shows over twenty years ago.  I've especially been impressed by the shows of Norah, Sarah McLachlan, Rush and a few others over the last few years. It makes the ticket prices much more tolerable when you consider how complete a show you're getting.

With this tour, Norah has proven that she continues to grow in all aspects as well as adding new abilities to her repertoire.  The band is a very well oiled and polished machine that has benefited with such an extended period of time together. Definitely worth seeing if you're a fan of either Norah or adult contemporary with some jazz & country thrown in.

Movie Review - Pirates 3

The same cast of characters from the first two movies returns with the addition of several Pirate Lords played most notably by Chow Yun Fat and Keith Richards (in the role of Jack Sparrow's father, although I couldn't immediately tell a difference from his last Stones appearance, and I kept waiting for one of the other pirates to call him Keef). The story is a bit confusing as it consists of a meeting of the same Pirate Lords, the release of a mythical creature called Calypso, attempts to free Jack from Davy Jones Locker (the world of the dead?) and the battle(s) to gain control of the chest with Jones heart in it, control of the Black Pearl, control of the high seas, etc. I think there were at least three sides in the movie with the British Navy as one, Davy Jones & crew as another, and then the collection of the main characters as the third. 

The problem is that at any given moment one group is in league with another, someone from one group betrays the others and crosses sides, etc. After awhile I gave up on understanding where the plot was supposed to be going and just enjoyed the action and humor. Johnny Depp just seems made for this character and he is consistently funny throughout. The action sequences and special effects are as good as they come and although the movie was little too long at 2:45, the time went by fairly fast. If you consider yourself a fan of the first two, it's worth seeing in the theater once. If you weren't, this won't win you over. I give it a mild thumbs up.

Book Review - Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - A B&N browse and pick. The story is a few years old (I think 1999) and jumps back and forth between World War II and the turn of the millenium. It centers around a few main characters in WWII and their descendants, and it's focused on the cryptological (then) and information security (now)business. The cast of characters includes a kind of cryptological savant, a marine grunt, spies, treasure hunters, damsels in distress, lions, tigers, you get the picture. Ok, mostly it's about the spy business from the side of cryptographers (go figure with a title like Cryptonomicon) Stephenson shows quite the touch at handling the science (which he appears to be quite versed in) as well as offering a plausible and interesting plot. He also does a good job of handling multiple plot lines as he jumps back and forth between past & present and between different characters. This is often a risky venture and very few pull it off while maintaining the urgency of the story (George R.R. Martin has very succesfully written his entire Song of Ice and Fire series with this technique). Perhaps best of all, he is very funny in the most geeky sense of the word. Some of the metaphors he uses to describe a painful or exasperating experience are laugh out loud funny. I don't know how much of the technology described is real, but it all sounds convincing when he describes it. I really like his writing and will be reading his other novels when I get time.

Movie Review - Spider Man & Shrek 3

We saw Spider Man and Shrek 3 this weekend and in both cases, I suppose the third time isn't as charming as hoped for. If you liked the first two of each, then these aren't completely forgettable, but they both suffer from where they occur in the series. I think we've seen all we need to see of both these series now (although I'll be surprised if there isn't a least one more sequel for each). Spider Man 3 - a little too long and too many villains. This movie suffers from trying to do too much and thereby gives too little attention to anything, leaving you wondering at the end exactly who was that Sandman guy, and where the hell did the black gooey stuff come from? And why couldn't it wait until the next movie? I'd say it's worth a rental, but you may want to save your theater money for something else. It does look great, though.

Shrek 3 - is at least visually impressive as they have managed to continue the graphics improvements with technology to the point that some things in the movie look very convincingly real. Unfortunately, the charm of the first two movies gets a little lost in this movie in which Shrek and Fiona are much more mainstream characters, reminding me of some sitcom roles as opposed to the rude and abrasive (and more entertaining) Shrek from the first two movies. The best roles (and lines) in this movie are for the minor fairy tale characters;  Donkey and Puss-n-boots are also underutilized.  It's still worth a rental (in about 6 months) unless you've got kids who will probably demand to see it in the theater. I really wish they could do an R-rated Shrek. If you pushed the vulgarity, sarcasm and exploited the twisted fairy tale idea to its limit this could be really funny. Sadly, that'll never happen.

A common theme in many sequels now is that they all benefit from the newest technology and manage to surpass their predecessors on some audiovisual level, but that is often the only objective goal they seem to have in mind. Look at the Star Wars prequels, for example. They all surpassed the original trilogy from a tech standpoint, but they all were found lacking in script, dialogue and characters. I'm unashamedly a techno geek and I will often watch a movie that is otherwise forgettable if it looks cool, but I'm really starting to tire of the tendency to treat story and dialogue as secondary. Why can't we make great looking, epic movies that also remember the importance of storytelling at it's most basic level?  The Lord of the Rings trilogy is an example of how you can do both although they had the benefit of a great story to start with.  I often wonder if all the tech advancements have been a positive for the movie industry. A great story begins and ends with words and unfortunately in a visual medium this is sometimes an afterthought.

 

Rush is Back

The new album is out (well, technically it's out on May 1st) and I have been listening to it over and over and over again.  So far this album is exactly where I hoped the band would go in all aspects. The songs are all medium length, medium tempo, but that doesn't indicate the variety of sounds and textures. The acoustic guitar is very prominent, possibly due to the satisfaction they had from playing the acoustic sets during the last few tours. The influence of "Feedback" seems to have bled into this album somewhat as they have looked back towards their influences in the instrumentation and production. 

One great change from their last album "Vapor Trails" is the production. This album, in a word, is sonically HUGE.  The mixes are pristine and the separation of the instruments is perfect. I find myself torn between just rocking out to the songs as opposed to listening to the mix. Having experimented with recording, I know enough to realize that just taking different instruments and maybe adjusting volume and pan won't get you anything near a good mix. There's an art to taking a certain instrument tone and laying it into the mix so that is distinct, yet doesn't overpower the other instruments and vocalist. The producer,  Nick Raskulinecz, who has also produced Foo Fighters, Velvet Revolver and other great bands just did a fantastic job on this album. He has a short interview, where he discusses the new album.

 

We have to wait to get concert tickets since I'm not sure where we will be this summer. Suffice to say, we will go, oh yes, we will.



New Gear, New Frustrations

We just upgraded our camcorder to the Canon HV20 and so far it has been living up to the mostly positive reviews it received. It has better low light performance than our previous Sony camcorder (an older model from 2001) and the high def footage has looked very good. My biggest problem with it so far isn't the camera itself, but trying to upload and manipulate the footage on my computer.

I have a fairly recent vintage (early 2006) Gateway XP machine with a 3.0 gHz processor, 2 gigs of RAM, and a Nvidia 7600 GS Video Card with 512mb RAM which is decent. However, the uploading and then processing within video software is very slow at best. I have jumped back and forth between Adobe premiere and the plain vanilla Windows Movie Maker, and for the most part I have had better luck with the novice friendly Movie Maker. I make sure not to run any other programs, but even then the process of encoding and then exporting the video and audio is very slow. I don't have a good baseline to compare it to and since the source material is HDV, it may not be unreasonably slow.

I am holding off on my next computer because I have decided to changeover to Apple now that they can run Windows pretty well with the Intel processors and boot camp.  I know they are due to release Leopard later this year and it seems like they will also be offering new hardware (quad core and higher laptops) as well. I am hopeful to finally have a system that will be fast (and stable) for music and a/v production, which (in my experience) the Windows machines haven't been.

Line 6 Variax 700 Acoustic Review

I have had this guitar for a few months now and it's become my main guitar acoustic guitar for practice and recording. All the current samples (as of April 07) on my songs page were recorded with the Variax acoustic. I was so impressed with this guitar that I splurged on a Variax Electric 700, despite having another great electric guitar in the Fender EJ Strat. The ability to change tunings by rotating a knob is about the coolest and most useful (esp. for fingerstyle players) tech advance I can think of. Sure, you could have 5 different acoustic guitars sitting around in different tunings, but cost and care start to get overwhelming. This guitar also models many different brand guitars including classic Gibsons, Martins of different size/shape as well as steels, and even a banjo and a shamisen.  I have found that it's a little difficult to really hear the difference between some of the models, although the primary reference point for me is headphones and they may color the sound a bit when compared to a good pa system or through a better preamp than I have. The ability to play the various songs I love on acoustic that require different tunings (DADGAD, Nashville, that weird open C-ish tuning for the Rain Song by Zep, etc.) is such a convenience for me. This guitar is actually a solidbody but it appears acoustic and is very  convincing when amplified, but don't take my word for it, listen to one of the songs I uploaded. That's one of the few drawbacks. Since it uses electronics to change the guitar sound and the tuning, you can't play them unamplified. In fact, you need to make sure they are amplified loud enough that you don't hear the strings or it could get distracting.

Line 6 Variax 700 Electric Review

I bought this guitar after playing the acoustic model for several weeks and I haven't been disappointed. This guitar is actually even more versatile in it's own way than the acoustic model. I found on the acoustic that there were only a few models that I really liked, but I have found a greater of variety of useful tones on this guitar.

Movie Review - Breach

based on the true story of Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent responsible for what is considered the worst security breach in US Intelligence history. The story focuses on the short interval of time after the FBI had already begun an investigation into Hanssen. A young agent in training is assigned as his assistant to what is ostensibly supposed to be a sting operation to catch him as a sexual deviant with the true purpose of the operation being unknown to the young agent at the time. Chris Cooper delivers another great performance as the egotistical and domineering senior agent who looks at the entire agency and its personnel as being mentally and technically inferior to him. Ryan Phillippe plays Eric O'Neill and successfully captures the earnest but inexperienced stumblings of an agent in training. 

He is tasked by his superiors to keep track of all Hanssen's activities, but at the same time develops a grudging respect for the experienced operative. The story revolves around the bond of trust that develops between the two men and the thin line the young man must tread to fulfill his mission while deceiving an agent who is probably one of the best in the agency at smelling a lie. The story is a fairly slow paced character driven drama, but retains its interest especially since its based on true events. I'm curious as to why they didn't cover more of the 15 years of spying and Hanssen's interaction with the Soviets, as it seems that would have been interesting to see as well. Overall a good espionage story.

Book Review - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - another B&N browse pickup. This novel is set in a similar time period to two recent "magical" movies (The Prestige and The Illusionists, respectively) and describes a Napoleonic war era England in which magic is a historical art/science that has fallen out of regular use by most of it's practitioners, who are called theoretical magicians since they all study and discuss it in great detail, but none of them actually can perform any magic. It follows the titular characters who both have different ways of actually practicing the magic and both have different opinions of what it's proper use will be in the service of their own priorities and those of the country. It's been called a sort of Harry Potter for adults, and I guess that's somewhat fair in that it is very English in tone and it's about magic. If you're main foray into literature has been HP, then this may not be your cup of tea, but lovers of good writing with an element of the fantastic will probably like this.

Movie Review - Casino Royale

We Netflixed (yeah, that's a verb) this after watching it in the theater and my first impressions hold true, in that I think this is the most promising first Bond picture I've ever seen. Daniel Craig is exactly how I picture Bond, much more in the mold of a Jason Bourne with the story grounded in realism as opposed to trying to outexplode or outsex the previous versions. Not that there are not some nearly unbelievable stunt sequences and the requisite number of gadgets and toys, but never to the extent that previous movies showed. I liked the fact he had to drive a rental car at one point until he managed to win a better one in a, wait for it, card game. There is one sequence where Bond is chasing a guy through a construction site that is one of the most impressive I have ever seen and it's all on foot (counting the jumping, bouncing, springing, etc.). Suprising, the villian is very Bond-esque with a scarred and translucent eye and on paper would seem like another standard over the top villian, but he actually works and the physical appearance doesn't take away from his believability. The movie manages to capture the original Ian Fleming concept without glamorizing it more for Hollywood. I am really looking forward to future installments now. Not to say that I didn't like Pierce Brosnan, but his Bond (and the series in general) had gotten very stale for me, and I consider myself a pretty big fan.

Movie Review - Borat

I laughed nearly constantly during the whole movie. Sasha Baron Cohen is one of those rare comedians who is willing to do anything to serve the movie and the laugh. If you're not already aware, he plays a "cultural ambassador" for Kazakstan on a trip to America to promote his country. He enters into a variety of situations with apparently completely unwitting participants. It appears to be a sort of Soviet Bloc version of Jackass without all the stunts on the surface, but it's a very intelligent commentary on how perception and presumption color our behaviour much more than reality. To see how a variety of people treat Borat (from both the wealthy and social elite to the more average Americans) tells us a lot more about ourselves as a society than it does about Borat, who represents the extreme version of most Americans concept of people from his part of the world. Having spent six months in Kosovo, I can say that while his character has a ring of truth (and he is completely convicing, never breaking character the whole time) to him, it's all exaggerated for effect. The amazing thing is that no one in the film seems to realize he is an actor and take him as an actual representation of the typical man from Kazakstan. Definitely one of the most intelligent comedies I have seen in several years. Sadly, most people will just see it as like an exploitation for laughs movie, which it isn't.