Josh Ritter @ Woodland Park Zoo (7/30/14)

Beth and I went to see Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band at the zoo last night.  That sounds sort of exotic, but the truth is that I didn’t see or hear any animals other than birds and gnats the entire evening.  I didn’t even smell any animals.  The predominant smell in the air was that of garlic fries.  The animals at Woodland Park Zoo must be very shy, polite, and hygienic.

It was a perfect evening to be out on the grass for an outdoor concert, but I soon became grumpy because the opening act, a group called Lake Street Dive, wouldn’t leave the stage. Long after I thought they should’ve wrapped up, the singer was talking about playing a few more.  Then they played more after those.  No opening act should ever be onstage longer than 40 minutes.  That’s a rule.

Lake Street Dive eventually went away and Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band took the stage.  Josh Ritter is so earnest and enthusiastic that it’s hard to stay grumpy once he’s doing his thing.  He’s pretty much the John Denver of the 2000s.  I don’t mean that as an insult either.  I always liked John Denver.  I think he got a bad rap because he had awful hair and hung around with Muppets too much.  He was a true entertainer who seemed to genuinely enjoy being onstage and singing his songs for people.  I get the same vibe from Josh Ritter.  He has a good time up there and seems to appreciate how lucky he is to be able to make a career of it.  And his enthusiasm is infectious.  Okay, let’s just say I smile a lot at Josh Ritter shows and move on to the next paragraph.

Josh Ritter’s most recent release is The Beast in Its Tracks which came out in early 2013 (and took the #5 spot on my Albums of the Year post).  He’s still traveling with his Evil Eye backdrop, but it didn’t feel like he was really touring in support of that album.  He only played three songs from it.  The setlist felt more like a career retrospective to me…what I’d call a “hits” set if Josh had ever had a hit.  He also played two brand new songs as part of a mini solo acoustic set in the middle of the show.  He didn’t give the titles of these new songs, but I’m calling them “Devil in His Eye” and “Get Yourself Back to the Country”.  Maybe I should’ve called that first one “Henrietta, Indiana” because he likes to use place names as song titles.  I don’t really know.

Here’s the setlist:

Main set: Good Man/Hopeful/Me & Jiggs/Southern Pacifica/Harrisburg/Right Moves/Kathleen/The Temptation of Adam (solo)/”Devil in His Eye” (solo)/”Get Yourself Back to the Country” (solo)/Here at the Right Time/Lantern/Wolves/New Lover/Naked As a Window–>Girl in the War/Joy to You Baby/Lillian, Egypt

Encore set: Roll On/To the Dogs or Whoever

Blah, blah, blah.

I’m not finishing this one.

image

(digital flyer)

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Stuff I’ve Been Reading: A Monthly Column (7/14)

I took a month off from this website and spent a lot of my extra time reading books.  I read so many, in fact, that I had to divide my book writing into two posts.  This first one documents my thoughts on The Best American Comics 2013 anthology and the graphic novels it inspired me to read.  The second post will be about the other books I read during my time away.

The Best American Comics 2013–Jeff Smith (editor)
I own the first six volumes of the Best American Comics series.  I disliked 2011’s anthology so much that I skipped right over 2012 and only got back into the series this year because I liked Kate Beaton’s cover art so much.

This year’s edition started off with a very dull 25-page excerpt from Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother?  Despite the fact that I didn’t care for it, I was happy to read the excerpt because it convinced me I no longer needed to read the full book.  The anthology continued on with another 100+ pages of stuff that didn’t interest me in the slightest.  It wasn’t until James Kochalka’s American Elf turned up on page 131 that I found something I liked.  I ordered that book from the library along with two others I found out about in this collection, My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf and The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell.  Kate Beaton’s “Velocipede” comic from Hark! A Vagrant was so much fun that I decided to buy a copy of that book instead of checking it out from the library.  Evan Dorkin’s “Fun Strips” was enjoyable about half the time, but they were the only other highlight in the entire anthology.

I think it’s safe to say that editor Jeff Smith and I have different ideas about what constitutes quality in the world of comics.  I actively disliked a few of his selections.  Still, there was enough of an overlap between our interests to make The Best American Comics 2013 worth my time.  I got four solid books out of it, after all.  Now I’ll write about three of those:

My Friend Dahmer–Derf Backderf
I got frustrated when I finished this graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer’s high school years as it seemed to end rather abruptly.  It bothered me so much that I went back and reread the ending.  That’s when I noticed that someone had ripped pages 197 and 198 from the book.  I found digital versions of the missing pages on Amazon.  They rounded out the end of the book a bit better, but I still found Backderf’s story more engaging as an excerpt.

American Elf–James Kochalka
James Kochalka got it into his head that he should draw a daily autobiographical comic documenting his life.  This book collects the first five+ years of these sketchbook diaries starting in October of 1998.  I’d say that about 10% are terrible, 10% are excellent, and the remaining 80% are just expressions of the monotonous minutia of daily living.  The artist himself comes off as a manipulative baby-man, but his wife Amy and cat Spandy help make the book a worthwhile read.

American Elf, Book 2–James Kochalka
This second volume collects James Kochalka’s sketchbook diaries from 2004 and 2005.  He and Amy have a new baby with herpes, so things are both increasingly schlocky (oh, our baby is the best baby ever) and disgusting (oh, look at our baby’s cold sores), but Spandy is still around to redeem the book.  This volume is in color, so it’s much more visually interesting than the first five black and white years.  Kochalka kept his diaries going until the end of 2012, but I probably won’t be reading the rest of the series.  There are only so many comics about losing your hair, getting drunk, peeing on things, and playing video games that I can stand.  Still, Spandy is the best!

The Voyeurs–Gabrielle Bell
Gabrielle Bell was my favorite cartoonist for most of 2009.  I read all three of her books over the course of a week and wrote a rave review about them on Vox.  Then–as often happens with me–I completely forgot that she existed.  It wasn’t until I read “Cody” in The Best American Comics 2013 that I remembered that I used to think “Cecil and Jordan in New York” was the best comic ever.  I did some research and discovered that Gabrielle Bell published a fourth book of autobiographical stories back in 2012 that I’d managed to overlook.  I ordered The Voyeurs from the library and walked up as soon as it came in.  Well, I sort of wish my Gabrielle Bell amnesia had continued, as The Voyeurs didn’t delight me like those first three books did.  In fact, it left me depressed.  Whereas Gabrielle Bell’s earlier work came off as quirky or slightly neurotic, her stories now seem like an expression of someone with serious issues.  It’s hard to feel sorry for a world-famous author who makes her living writing comics, but there was something truly pitiable about this book.  I hope she’s making some of it up…or at least exaggerating a bit.

CURRENTLY READING:
The Free–Willy Vlautin
Hark! A Vagrant–Kate Beaton

graphic novels

(recent comics & graphic novels)

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Luluc @ the Fremont Abbey (7/22/14)

No offense to Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, but the best concert I’ve seen by an Australian band so far this year wasn’t their show in Louisville last month but the one Luluc put on in Seattle last night.  The two bands have almost nothing in common other than their country of origin, so maybe it’s not fair to compare them, but I went ahead and did it anyway.  I thought it made for a good opening sentence.

Let’s go back a couple weeks.  Beth and I were on the phone and she mentioned she wanted to see Luluc when I was in town.  Although I knew the band had two songs on a Nick Drake tribute a couple years ago, I’d never heard any of their original material.  I went ahead and agreed to the concert.  The way I looked at it, if Beth could go see Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with me, then I could go see Luluc with her.

I wanted to be prepared, of course, so I did some research.  I found out that Luluc is a duo comprised of Zoe Randell and Steve Hassett.  They released a CD called Dear Hamlyn six years ago, did the Nick Drake tribute, and then signed with Sub Pop who was scheduled to put out a new full-length called Passerby in a few days.  I went to Everybody’s Records on release day and picked up a copy of the new Luluc.  I took it home not really knowing what to expect.

I’m happy to report that I immediately fell for Luluc’s songwriting and beautiful harmonies.  Passerby quickly became one of my favorite releases of 2014.  Luluc has an early 70s British folkie-thing going on, but the quality of their lyrics puts them above most of the hippy-dippy singers and bands from that scene.  It might just be that Zoe Randell’s voice reminds me of some (forgotten) singer from that era.  I don’t really know.  There are also a few contemporary bands I’ve heard that have a similar sound…specifically some from that The Sound the Hare Heard comp I got last year.  They also remind me a bit of Over the Rhine.  I’m rambling, I know.  Let’s just skip to the concert.

This was my first show at the Fremont Abbey.  It’s a small, intimate venue with good sound.  It lent itself well to Luluc’s quiet, sometimes fragile-sounding songs.  I remember thinking it felt like I was among friends seeing a show in someone’s living room.  It was that kind of atmosphere.  Luluc played nine of the ten songs on Passerby.  My favorites were “Small Window” (which has a lovely video) and “Reverie on Norfolk Street”.  The title track was also a highlight, but it was slightly marred by a skunky weed cloud that showed up for about three minutes and then promptly dissipated.  Luluc finished their showcase of new material and then closed out the evening with two older songs from Dear Hamlyn.  The first of those (fake) encore songs, “Little Suitcase”, is a particular favorite of Beth’s.  She likes it so much that she actually blurted out a request for it.  I’m glad they agreed.  As always, here’s the setlist:

Main Set: Early Night*/Without a Face/Reverie on Norfolk Street/Senja*/Small Window/Winter Is Passing/(country girl vs. suburban boy)/Passerby/Tangled Heart/Star

(Fake) Encore: Little Suitcase/I Found You

The two songs marked with an asterik were songs that Luluc had never played live before.  “Country girl vs. suburban boy” wasn’t a song; that’s just the name I gave to the humorous story Steve told about meeting Zoe’s father for the first time.  I usually don’t include stories in my setlists, but this one was worth documenting.

image

(sticker, shirt, setlist)

I should also mention that the opening act was a Seattle singer/songwriter named Sophia Duccini.  I liked her enough to puchase a copy of her In the Nature EP.

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Ease Your Feet in the Sea

ease your feet in the seaOne of my cousins got married in Chicago this weekend.  I could’ve gone to the ceremony except that a cousin wedding is so far down on my list of preferred activities that I never even really considered it.  I decided to stay in Cincinnati and take care of Kylie Momo.  Cat sitting can be kind of boring, but it’s still a lot better than a cousin wedding.  I managed to keep myself entertained by swimming laps in a nearby pool and writing a bunch of WordPress posts.  This is my sixth one this weekend.  The other five were:

  1. Winter Is Coming!
  2. Stuff I’ve Been Reading: An Occasional Column
  3. The Adventures of Nick Cave Dollbaby (NCDB)
  4. Tiger shark vs. Flying uniphant
  5. (Fats & the new tunes)

I usually write 10-12 posts per month, so six in a weekend is a lot for me.  These posts catch me up on most of my usual topics, so I’ve decided to take a rest.  Yes, I’m officially on Summer Break effective immediately.

Oh wait, not yet.  I forgot to write about the vintage photograph.  It came in the mail a few days ago.  I named it (and this post) after the Belle & Sebastian song from The Boy With the Arab Strap.

Okay, now I’m on Summer Break.  Off to the pool!

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(Fats & the new tunes)

Here are the records and CDs I got during Beth’s recent visit.  She wasn’t in town long, but we went to Everybody’s twice and stopped by Guestroom Records and Modern Cult Records while we were down in Louisville.  It all adds up.

fats plus

(Fats & the new tunes)

Let’s start up at the top and look at the columns from left to right:

  • Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & the Cairo Gang – We Love Our Hole 7″ – This single comes with a “fart cloud” sticker.  You can see it shooting from the rear of the shadowy surfer on the cover.  Classy stuff.
  • Tsunami – Matchbook 7″ – This was my purchase from Modern Cult Records in Louisville.  I would’ve liked to have bought one of the paintings they had on display, but I’d already spent too much money by that time in the trip.
  • Fats Domino – The Legendary Imperial Recordings – Fats Domino is my favorite musical discovery of 2014.  It’s hard to believe that I only knew a couple of his songs (“Blueberry Hill” and “I’m Walkin'”) last year at this time.  So far I’ve purchased an LP, a hits compilation, and now this excellent four disc box set.
  • Gene Clark & Carla Olson – So Rebellious a Lover – I hadn’t seen a copy of this one for sale in a long time, so I picked it up when I saw it at Guestroom Records.  It was a bargain at $5.
  • the Someloves – Don’t Talk About Us: The Real Pop Recordings of the Someloves 1985-89 – This collection gathers the Australian band’s only record along with a bonus disc of singles, b-sides, and rarities.  I somehow found out about these guys while investigating the Orange Humble Band.
  • Record with a cartoon deer on the label
  • Joe Henry – Invisible Hour – I’ll buy anything and everything that Joe Henry releases.  This new CD came with an album’s worth of demos available as a bonus digital download.
  • Hauschka – Abandoned City – Guestroom had this new for $8.95.  I believe the pianist played a couple of these songs when I saw him in concert back in January.
  • Spottiswoode & His Enemies – English Dream – Crankypants somehow ended up with two copies of this CD and was kind enough to give me one when I saw her at the Nick Cave concert in Louisville.  I’m not all that familiar with the band, but I like what I’ve heard so far.  The vocals remind me of someone else I like, but I can’t seem to figure out who.
  • Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Revisited – This is the other CD I picked up at Guestroom.  Beth and I watched the bonus DVD of the band and their guests performing the songs from The Trinity Session.  It was sad to see Vic Chesnutt again.  I still miss that little shit.
  • Various Artists – The Doo Wop Box – The question I had to ask myself at Everybody’s was this: Do I really need 101 doo wop songs?  The answer, of course, was a resounding yes.
  • Afraid of Stairs/Beach Vacation – Lied/I Saw You split 7″ 
  • Math & Physics Club/Mannone Alone – It Must Be Summer Somewhere/Eddie split 7″
  • Fireflies/Wallflower – Underneath the Moon/You’ll Be There split 7″ – This single and the two above it are the second half of the 2014 Singles Club Box from Jigsaw and Duffelcoat Records.  Jigsaw still has a few copies left as of this writing.
random act of records

(left behind)

That record with the cartoon deer on the label got left on a doorstep in what Beth called “a random act of records”.

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Tiger shark vs. Flying uniphant

Here’s some graffiti we found in Louisville around the corner from Guestroom Records and that bakery that sells the largest pieces of red velvet cake ever. Sweet Surrender, I think it was called.

tigerphant

(we’re street art!)

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The Adventures of Nick Cave Dollbaby (NCDB)

Nick Cave Dollbaby (NCDB) recently drove down to Kentucky to see his fleshy counterpart perform a concert at the Louisville Palace.  Here are some shots from the trip:

NCDB has a coffee

(NCDB starts off the day with a fancy coffee.)

NCDB and his travel buddies

(NCDB travels to Louisville with his spiritual advisors.)

NCDB arrives at the 21c

(NCDB checks in at the 21c Museum Hotel and chills out before the show.)

NCDB and the statue

(NCDB arrives at the theatre and checks out the sights.)

NCDB gets ready to take the stage

(NCDB rocks out!)

NCDB strolls along in the 21c

(NCDB is sad after the show and takes a walk by himself. It’s hard being NCDB.)

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Stuff I’ve Been Reading: An Occasional Column

Paris Stories–Mavis Gallant
It had gotten to the point where I felt confident purchasing any book published by NYRB Classics.  My record with them was about 15-0.  That’s when I bought Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories based entirely on the title and the NYRB logo on the spine.  What can I say about Paris Stories?  Well, it’s probably a good book.  It’s not, however, a book for me.  It took me four months to get through this collection and every page was a snooze-enducing chore.  The only part of the book I actually enjoyed reading was the author’s afterword.  Mavis Gallant comes off as a very interesting woman.  I feel sort of bad that I didn’t like her stories more.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Wild Child–T.C. Boyle
A Death in Kitchawank–T.C. Boyle
T.C. Boyle Stories II brings together the author’s three most recent short story collections: After the Plague (2001), Tooth and Claw (2005), and Wild Child (2010).  It also features a new collection entitled A Death in Kitchawank.  I had already read the first two collections in the book, so I began reading Stories II on page 463.  That still left me with 28 new stories.

Despite the fact that I somehow managed to skip over Wild Child until now, T.C. Boyle is one of my favorite contemporary short story writers.  His T.C. Boyle Stories (1998)–which brought together his first four collections–is a modern classic and probably the book I’d take with me to the desert island, space station, etc.  And I’m happy to say that Stories II isn’t far off from that high standard.  There wasn’t a single dud in the batch of stories I read.  Some of my favorite stories from Wild Child and A Death in Kitchawank were about the following:

  • A father drives drunk to pick up his daughters from soccer practice and then has one of the girls take the wheel for the trip home.
  • A Mexican boy who doesn’t feel pain may hold the key to a major scientific breakthrough…or he might just be a way to make some quick pesos.
  • A professional baseball player heads off into the jungle to rescue his kidnapped mother.
  • A rich couple spends a quarter of a million dollars to clone their dead shit-eating, car-chasing dog.
  • A widower gets a companion snake after his wife dies but ends up preferring the company of the rats he buys for the snake’s meals.
  • A man decides it’s a good idea to put on a ski mask and climb onto his neighbor’s roof as an expression of devotion and sexual availability.
  • Russian peasants sneak back to their homes despite the fact that the land is still coursing full of radiation from a recent nuclear disaster.
  • A Central American ruler plans to defeat his country’s enemies by breeding all the largest citizens to create an army of giants.
  • A hermit dies alone in his house and a neighbor discovers and reads his journals.  The hermit used to be a heavy metal musician!

Perhaps the story that will stick with me longest is “Good Home”.  I don’t want to go into details about the story as some might find it disturbing, but I’d really like to talk to someone who’s read it and maybe pick their brain about what they think happened at the end.  Never has so much depended on a sentence as seemingly simple as “Steve was out somewhere.”

I got Stories II from the library because I already had half of the stories on my shelf.  I enjoyed the book so much, though, that I think I’ll buy a copy for myself.  I’m sure I’ll want to have it on hand when I eventually write my Best of 2014 post.  And you never know when I’ll find someone willing to read “Good Home”.  It’s not like I can lend them a library book.

Journey Into the Past–Stefan Zweig
Not knowing they were capable of publishing a book I didn’t like, I’d accumulated a backlog of unread NYRB Classics.  The whole thing went south with Paris Stories and continued in that direction with Stefan Zweig’s Journey Into the Past.  The novella is about a man who falls in love with his boss’s wife.  The boss sends the man to South America on a business trip.  World War I breaks out while he’s over there and it’s many years before he can safely return home.  Can the man and the woman pick up where they left off?  Will their love affair survive the passage of time?  These are the questions this novella tries to answer.  Perhaps a better question would be this: did Stefan Zweig ever kiss a woman in real life?  Because he writes romance like it’s a foreign concept.

The Price of Salt–Patricia Highsmith
I’d never heard of The Price of Salt until I read a local news story that said Cate Blanchett was in town filming an adaptation of the book with the actress who played the main character in David Fincher’s completely unnecessary remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  The actress whose name I can’t remember is going to play Therese, the main character in The Price of Salt.  She’s a young department store clerk who longs to be a stage designer.  She falls in love with a glamorous customer named Carol (Cate Blanchett in the movie).  Despite the difference in their ages and the fact that they live in an early 50’s New York where lesbianism is severely frowned upon, the two women fall in love and go on a roadtrip…followed closely behind by the private detective hired by Carol’s vengeful husband.

The Price of Salt is supposed to be a major work of lesbian fiction and a criminally neglected classic.  I don’t care about any of that.  It’s just a really good book.  I highly recommend it.

The Letter Killers Club–Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Krzhizhanovsky’s short story collection Memories of the Future was one of the great reading surprises of 2010.  I’d never heard of the author and bought the book based solely on its title.  It was actually one of my first NYRB Classics.  I loved the book and kept my eyes open for other Krzhizhanovsky titles.  I eventually found and purchased The Letter Killers Club, a novel about a group of men who secretly gather in a library full of empty bookshelves to share story ideas called “conceptions”.  The first rule of The Letter Killers Club is that the members can’t write anything down.  It has something to do with purity and something to do with Soviet-era censorship.  It’s a pretty cool idea for a book, but I think it falls apart due to the weakness of some of the members’ shared concepts.  Of the five shared concepts, I only cared for one of them.

So it turns out NYRB Classics is just as fallible as any other publishing house.  The Letter Killers Club was my third book in a row of theirs that didn’t do much for me.  I guess 15-3 is still a good record.

Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection–Stephen J. Sansweet
This book features pictures of every Star Wars action figure produced between the years 1977-2012.  In addition to the pictures, there are short blurbs about each of the toys.  The book was fun to look through until I got to the 47 pages dedicated to all the Clone Trooper variations.  There were an average of 6 figures per page, so that means that they made over 280 different kinds of Clone Troopers.  And they all looked pretty much the same.  I was so relieved when I finally got to the Cloud Car Pilot.  There were only four of him.

CURRENTLY READING:
???

t.c. boyle and other books

(Stories II…and other books)

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Winter is coming!

How do I know?  Well, there’s a White Walker living in my freezer.

white walker

(wraarghh!)

The power went out the day after I took this picture and most of his icy base melted, but the White Walker still pokes at me with his spear every time I go in for a popsicle.

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Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds @ the Louisville Palace (6/16/14)

Today featured a power outage, a busted air conditioner, a forgotten wallet, unbearable heat, and approximately 20,000 orange construction barrels on the road from Cincinnati to Louisville, but it ended on a positive note with a chance spotting of Nick Cave and a couple Bad Seeds in our hotel.  Somewhere in between the barrels and the brush with celebrity was a meet-up with friends and an amazing concert.  The setlist from that concert is as follows:

Main Set: We No Who U R/Jubilee Street/Tupelo/Red Right Hand/Mermaids/The Weeping Song/From Her to Eternity/West Country Girl/Into My Arms/God Is in the House/Higgs Boson Blues/The Mercy Seat/Stagger Lee/Push the Sky Away

Encore: The Ship Song/Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry/The Lyre of Orpheus

And I either used the world’s greatest urinal, or I peed on some art.  The 21c is a strange hotel.

image

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