Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mix-CD Catch Up - November

Another one that got created on time, just never posted.

1. The Redwalls - Modern Diet. Another great (and local) band discovered via Sound Opinions. They make about as good use of their Beatles influences as anyone around.

2. Iron & Wine - Resurrection Fern. One of my favorite songs this year. You have to be quiet and listen. Shhh!

3. The Mountain Goats - The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton. Overheard coming out of a recent Mountain Goats show - "It's about a death metal band in Denver who couldn't settle on a name, and they finally decided on 'Hail Satan'". Nice try...

4. The Choir - Nobody Gets a Smooth Ride. Yep.

5. Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive - Jon Rauhouse with Kelly Hogan. Oh Kelly Hogan where art thou? 2 superb albums then nothing for years except many appearances on compilations and other people's albums, such as this one.

6. Nothing Painted Blue - Houseguest. I know nothing about this band except Mountain Goats covered this song in concert and John turned it into an incredibly intense, yet still cleverly humorous, experience. This original version is pretty good too.

7. Moonshine Willy - You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly. How did I fail to pay attention to this band for so long?

8. The Redwalls - Game of Love. Definitely my favorite song right now. Maybe my favorite of the year.

9. Maria McKee - I'm Gonna Soothe You. Kind of rediscovered this album lately. She's been a bit of a chameleon throughout her career and this one is a pretty amazing display of her soulful side. Great production. On the surface this song sounds like a nice pledge of friendship...upon closer listen it turns out to be a deliciously menacing offer of a very specific kind of soothing to a friend's significant other.

10. Mountain Goats - Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod. Another one that grabbed me in concert recently, though I'd heard it before. Another tale of his horrible stepfather.

11. Jens Lekman - The Opposite of Hallelujah. One problem with doing these write-ups so long after I burned the CD is that had I written earlier, I may have waxed rhapsodic about this tune. After repeated listens though, my opinion of it has come down considerably. I need to listen to the album as a whole to see how I feel about it.

12. Magic Numbers - Most of the Time. From their newer one...another nice soulful duet.

13. Arcade Fire - Intervention. I picked up this song long ago, but it took me forever to finally get the album. I'm still not completely sold on the album, but this song is amazing, particularly for anyone who's ever worked at a church. "Working for the church while your life falls apart. Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart...". And how.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Testaments To My Dorkiness - The Piano Scarf

Yesterday I saw a man getting out of his car in front of my office wearing a scarf that looks like a piano keyboard, which instantly took me back to high school when I owned that same scarf. Then I thought, wow that scarf looks really dorky, man I was a dork. Then I got to thinking, even beyond how dorky it looks, how utterly ridiculous it was to be wearing a scarf at all on the Central Coast of California, where the mid-50's is a cold spell in winter. Then I thought even farther and remembered that I wanted that scarf because our band/choir teacher had one (and I was a piano player). This teacher was more sad than dorky, but in no way cool or beloved by his students. Not someone my socially awkward teenage self should have been taking fashion cues from. God bless my friends for not shunning me.

Mix CD Catch Up - October

I did actually get October's mix CD made on time...just never managed to post it. So here goes -

1. Terry Scott Taylor - Mr. Flutter. Terry is the front man for a number of different alternative Christian bands, dating back into the 70's. I've been getting back into him and Daniel Amos and the Swirling Eddies in a big way. As this song makes clear, he's never been a commercial success and he nails that monthly "oh crap can I pay the bills" feeling here that I know all too well...yet the song is incredibly catchy. From "John Wayne", an older solo album I had missed until just recently.

2. Whiskeytown - Sit and Listen to the Rain. Ryan Adams has a way of nailing melancholy like noone else. This is probably the best Whiskeytown-era example.

3. Iron & Wine - The Devil Never Sleeps. The first track that grabbed from an album that has taken awhile to grow on me, but has really grown on me.

4. Hank & Fred - Loudon Wainwright III. For years and years I was under the impression that Loudon was just kind of a novelty folk act....that most of his songs were overly clever, smart alecky, or dirty. Then I heard his stuff for the "Knocked Up" soundtrack and found out how wrong I was. This is from the one somewhat recent album I was able to get off EMusic. About looking for Hank Williams grave on the day Mr. Rogers died. Sounds like it could be clever and smart alecky, but it's incredible sincere and beautiful. I look forward to exploring more of his catalog.

5. Bowerbirds - In Our Talons. I guess this is considered "freakfolk". Beautiful, eerie, accordian laden music with nature obsessed lyrics. Saw them open recently for Mountain Goats and while the vocals tended to be somewhat samey, it's a very promising debut.

6. Tate Moore - Mountain In Mississippi. Another from the Larry Brown tribute "Just One More", by another artist I've never heard of. This album has been the gift that keeps on giving as far as great songs by people I've never heard of, inspired by an author I've never read.

7. Daniel Amos - Easy For You. See #1. A song for all the Christians who seem to be able to have faith without any doubts or struggles. I wouldn't want to be them, but I can't say there isn't a little jealousy there. This song probably encapsulates better than any why I still listen to Daniel Amos and Terry Terry when I listen to almost no other "Christian" music.

8. Chuck Prophet - Lets Something Wrong. From his newest, "Soap and Water", which is my first exposure to him. I'm still a little lukewarm on it, but I do like this song.

9. The Mountain Goats - Alabama Nova. This month's Mountain Goats selection. I don't remember why.

10. The Swirling Eddies - Madonna Inn. Hitting the Terry Taylor trifecta on this month's mix. This one is actually from a new album...I had put off ordering it until I heard about this song, which is about a hotel near where I grew up that we used to go to at Christmas time because it was all decked out for the holidays and we'd get big ice cream sundays which I loved. The hotel rooms are all themed, such as the caveman room this song mentions. I've never stayed the night though. (If you follow the above link to their website, yes, that is a real photograph - not a Thomas Kinkade painting).

11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Learning To Fly. TP is like an old security blanket. I don't need to pull him out often, but I know he's always there when I need him, and will always give me exactly what I need. In October, this is what I needed.

12. Trailer Bride - Itchin' For You. One of my least favorite Bloodshot bands, when this song came up on random on my IPod I was excited to find a song by them that I could really like.

13. Loudon Wainwright III - Nanny. Another from that same Loudon album. This one is funny, about his grandmother, but still earnest and heartfelt at the same time.

14. Pierce Pettis - Hold On To That Heart. Note to self.

15. Belle and Sebastian - Sukie in the Graveyard. I was addicted to this album (Life Pursuit) for many months after getting it, but hadn't paid attention to it for awhile. Still great.

16. Bill Mallonee - Maybe One Day. Another new good one from my favorite hard-luck case.

17. The Choir - We Give We Take. The other "Christian" band I can still stomach. I missed this album when it came out a couple years ago, but am enjoying it now.

With a little luck I'll run-down November's mix CD before spring and get December's made before the New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Proof That My Tivo Knows Nothing About Me

I come home sick from work today and what do I find my Tivo doing? Taping a 1989 College Bowl game off ESPN Classic.

I've had this Tivo for 4 or 5 years now and it is supposedly constantly gathering data about my viewing habits and using that to choose what it records as "suggestions" for me. I think this proves a critical flaw in their software.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A New Leaf

I've promised myself I will blog every day this week. Unlikely given my schedule (meetings the next two nights and The Mountain Goats on Thursday!, but then again, I beat Guitar Hero III tonight, so that's off my schedule...)

Anyway, I'm not counting this one as an actual blog, but I've kicked things off over at my religion blog - "Contrary To Popular Belief"

Speaking of a new leaf, The Onion has a funny piece this week about "Fall Being Cancelled". It almost feels too's just not supposed to feel like this in November. I'm not exactly complaining, but it's hard to fully enjoy nice weather when you fear it's part of an impending global catastrophe. Sleep tight....

Saturday, October 6, 2007

September's Mix CD

Better late than never, here is September's Mix CD (it was actually made in September):

1. Ron Sexsmith - I Think We're Lost

The title says it all...

2. They Might Be Giants - Spiralling Shape

No clue what this is about, like most TMBG songs, but it's fun, like most TMBG songs

3. Gillian Welch - Look At Miss Ohio

This one hit me like an old friend recently. I just needed some Gillian...

4. The Shangri-Las - Dum Dum Ditty

I used many of my E-Music downloads this month to grab some more girl-group stuff. This one is light and fun, but I swear they're actually saying "Run Run Ditty"...

5. Josh Ritter - Open Doors

From his new one "The Historical Conquests of...". Quite a disappointment after the stunning "Animal Years". This album is pretty heavy on the Dylan influence. This song, not so much.

6. Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez - Red Dog Tracks

I've wanted this album forever after hearing "Put Your Hat on Jenny". Finally found a used copy at Reckless and am very satisfied. Beautiful, fun, traditional yet accessible.

7. Golden Smog - I Can

The album "Another Fine Day" didn't do a whole lot for me, but I had kind of overlooked this track. The first of two odd stories of making this mix CD - because I generate the playist on my IPod throughout the month, I often have a hard time putting together the actual CD because I have to track down the original CDs or downloads...could not find this one anywhere. Then I went to get the Mountain Goats "All Hail West Texas" for another song on this mix, and this CD was in the case.

8. My Little Brother - Art Brut

Yes, I've been listening to this song for what seems like ages now, but I kind of came to Art Brut in wierd ways, with much of my first listens being live versions. This is the album version, and I really like it.

9. Sing To Me - Grey DeLisle

So much of Grey's stuff is hard for me to really get behind, but this one came up on shuffle recently and it so beautiful and a nice story. She has such an interesting bio too - wife of Murray from the Old 97s, cartoon voice actor (she often does Daphne for Scooby Doo), and alt-country songstress.

10. Two By Two - The Features

Not a great band across the board, yet, but a few really great songs. This one grabbed me because it reminds me a lot of Jesus Jones. I'm not sure why that would be a good thing, but it just seems to be. Looking forward to a new album from them soon.

11. Moonshine Willy - Don't You Want Me

I've had this album forever - how did I miss this? Yes, it is a cover of the Human League song, done up in Moonshine Willy's hillbilly bluegrass punk. Right up there with their "Madonna Trilogy".

12. The Mountain Goats - Riches and Wonders

All my first attractions to the Mountain Goats revolved around the bitter angry songs ("No Children", "Cubs in Five", etc...destined for upcoming mix CDs) and his poignant growing up songs ("This Year", "Cubs in Five", etc...). I was surprised to find such a sweet love song. He still adds that little hint of dysfunction though - "I am healthy, I am whole, I have poor impulse control".

13. Easy on Yourself - Drive-By Truckers

I kept waking up with this one in my head last month. Partly I think because I was listening to Jason Isbell's solo CD (he takes the lead on this one), and partly I think my psyche talking to me.

14. Be Careful - Mutual Admiration Society

I didn't think about this when coming up with track list or programming the song order, but as I was listening the other night, it hit me that this song is really the antidote to "Easy on Yourself" (the line is "Don't be so easy on yourself"...whereas this song's line is "Be careful to yourself, cause noone else will"). MAS was a (so far) one off collaboration between former Toad The Wet Sprocket frontman (and excellent solo artist) Glen Phillips, and Nickel Creek. Not one of my favorite projects of his, but a few nice tunes.
Strange story #2 from making this mix CD - this was another one I couldn't find my copy of the CD anywhere, and had given up on. Then I went to the library the day I was making this, and in the book sale area they had a little box of CDs, and a promo copy of this CD for $1. What are the odds?

15. Josh Ritter - Rumors

My other favorite track from the new album.

16. Banjos and Trampolines - Don Peris

Beautiful, beautiful album. He's such a great songwriter and singer - it's too bad he took so long to make a solo album (he's in Innocence Mission) and it's too bad his second solo album was instrumental.

17. The Crystals - Heartbreaker

The Crystals or The Shangri-Las? Thank God I don't have to decide.

18. The Hold Steady - Citrus

More ramblings about Jesus and lovers.

19. Rationale - Bill Mallonee

Since disbaning Vigilantes of Love and losing his umpteenth record contract, Bill has been quietly recording new tracks every month, many chronicling his failed marriage and disillusion with the record business, and making them available to subscribers of "BillTunes". Check him out at You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Missing All The Action

Can I please stay up and watch the playoffs daddy?

Monday, September 17, 2007

I'm Not Making This Up

I feel like I've posted before about some of the eerie strings of songs my Ipod has come up with on shuffle before...but even so, this one beats all.

As of today, I have 12,250 songs on my 80 GB Ipod. I was on the train today with the Ipod on shuffle. It was shuffling the whole library - not just a playlist - it could pick any song out of 12,250. I was also doing the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine Crossword. I read the clue "_ Robinson". Checked the squares, saw that is was 3 letters, and as my pen hit the paper to start filling in "Mrs", my IPod pulled up and started playing the Simon and Garfunkel song. I was seriously freaked. It's kind of got this long fade in intro that was a bit hard to hear at the level I had it on, so at first I was like "no...there's no's something else"...but then, sure enough. I didn't know whether to perform an exorcism, throw the IPod out the train doors, or make sacrifices to it.

Now it would have been funnier if I couldn't figure out what the answer to the crossword clue was, with the song playing in my headphones the whole time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


I'm a door holder - as any decent person should be. Male or female, it's not just chivalry. Lately though I've been thinking about a situation that has long been frustratingly awkward - the double entry with consecutive sets of doors. You go through one set into into a small entry way (you know that little area you get shoved out into when you're waiting for a table at a busy restaurant), then immediately through a second set of doors into the main building. What is the etiquette for that? Is the person you've just held the first door for supposed to hold the second door for you? Should they just go straight through the second door to avoid all awkwardness? Should they wait for you to come open the second door? I think typically when someone has held the first door for me, I then hold the second door for them, but something still feels awkward about this - like you're negating their kindness. Like you can't stand to be beholden to them so you must immediately repay the favor. I've also been known, with my long arm-span or with a foot and an arm, to occasionally attempt the double hold - opening both doors at once. This is incredibly awkward though and can make you look like kind of an idiot.
I've googled this issue and haven't come up with anything (though I did discover a fun site - EtiquetteHell).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

August Mix CD

Here's the track listing for this month's mix CD. Lots of new music this month!

1. The Shangri-Las - Give Him a Great Big Kiss
My foray into girl groups still hasn't gotten old for me. The Shangri-Las are pretty incredible.
These girls could have kicked the Pipettes butts anyday. "...he's been bad, but he's not evil".
2. Spoon - The Underdog
Tried to get into their last well reviewed album, and was never really able to. Heard rave rave reviews on their new one (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga) and had to give a try. It's quite good. This is a great catchy number.
3. McCarthy Trenching - Wedding Song
First heard them last week opening for Mark Olson at Schubas. Dan McCarthy has a lot of Townes Van Zandt and Greg Brown in him (though he claims little TVZ influence and no knowledge of Greg Brown). This song is particularly reminiscent of Van Zandt. And no, it's not the sappy "There Is Love" Wedding Song that used to be sung at too many weddings. This one's about missing your opportunity to start a family bluegrass band.
4. Blanche - Another Lost Summer
Not sure where I heard these guys first, but this is one of 2 songs by them on my IPod, and this one caught me off guard on shuffle. Sad and hinting at some sort of family tragedy, but who doesn't feel this way at the end of most every summer? I'm a sucker for the male/female interplay on the vocals.
5. The New Pornographers - All The Old Showstoppers
First, the band name - Jerry Falwell once called rock music "the new pornography". Second, this will be probably be my favorite album of the year (Challengers). Oh my gosh it's good. And this song...I haven't checked to see who wrote this one, but I regret not pairing it here with Neko Cases' "John Saw The Number" as this features further tales of John the Revelator. This is what pop-rock was meant to be.
6. The Lost Dogs - Bush League
" here's our yellow ribbon burning song". This is an old song off the Lost Dogs' first album, but it hit me on shuffle the other day and I was blown away. How did a band on a contemporary Christian music label get away with bashing a Republican President 16 years ago? The whole album is a tough-love letter to America, and just as relevant 16 years later.
7. The Veils - Advice For Young Mothers To Be
Possibly a pro-choice statement? I'm not sure...was trying to listen hard to it in the car yesterday, but couldn't get a clear interpretation. Thanks to B for turning me on to them. Apparently Andy Partridge of XTC's son, but he sounds so much like Nick Cave I always get confused and think of him as Nick Cave's son, which in a sense I think he is. He can write some XTC worthy hooks, but is quite a bit darker overall.
8. Richard Buckner - Count Me In On This One
From Impasse. I was a very late comer to Richard Buckner. Someone even took me to see him years and years ago at Schubas and I thought nothing of him at the time. Then within the last couple of years I got "Bloomed" and fell in love. Nothing else of his has even come close to that album for me, but a couple tracks off Impasse did grab me this month.
9. Of Montreal - A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger
Saw them at Lolla last year and was intrigued. Picked up this disc (Hissing Faunua Are You The Destroyer), and beyond the impossible not to like "Suffer For Fashion", it didn't do much for me, and somehow missed getting onto the IPod before being buried in the mess of CDs that is my home. Pulled it out in advance of seeing them at Pitchfork this summer, and it's grown on me in a big way.
10. Josh Rouse - London Bridges
Josh Rouse seems to be putting out an album a year these days, along with a number of EPs. This one (Country Mouse, City House) is considerably more interesting than his last full length Subtitulo. Nothing out of the ordinary here - just Josh doing that smooth groove laden pop folk thing that he does.
11. Delta Spirit - French Quarter
Don't know much about these guys except they're on the Cold War Kids label and have toured with them. And they're awesome. Only an EP at this point and I can't wait for a full length. Straight ahead rock with a little bit of roots, a little bit of soul, and little bit of the Stones.
12. Eleni Mandell - Girls
Thanks to K for reintroducing me to Eleni Mandell. It's been a few albums since I'd listened to her, and this new one (Miracle of Five) is really nice. Smooth, pretty, simple with something I can't quite put my finger on that elevates this way above the Norah Jones territory it could so easily linger in.
13. Mark Olson - Poor Michael's Boat
Mark has a stellar new album "Salvation Blues" and this is probably the strongest (and most reminiscent of the Jayhawks) among an album full of strong songs. Saw him twice last week with an incredible backing band, looking and sounding like they were all having a great time.
14. Califone - The Orchids
One of my favorite bands from Pitchfork this year. Apparently this is a cover song, but done with their cool unique instrumentation that was very enjoyable to watch/listen to at Pitchfork.
15. The Avett Brothers - Die Die Die
Clever, catchy, and hummably morbid. What more do you need?
16. The Mountain Goats - Some Swedish Trees
I seem to have an unwritten rule that nearly every mix CD must have a Mountain Goats song. This is this month's.
17. The Shangri-Las - Out in the Streets
A classic tale of girl is attracted to bad boy, girl succeeds in changing bad boy, girl finds she isn't as attracted to good boy.
18. Patty Griffin - Sweet Lorraine
I've been on a Patty Griffin kick lately. I love learning her songs on guitar because we have the same vocal range and her songs are easy enough that I can play them, but sophisticated enough that they sound cool. She's always at her best when she writing about, or writing as other characters. This is one of her first great songs in that vein.
19. The New Pornographers - Myriad Harbour
Dan Bejar (Destroyer) steals the album with this one.
20. Richard Buckner - Hoping Wishers Never Lose
21. Of Montreal - Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider

Monday, August 13, 2007


Fairly funny movie that I don't think I'd seen since either its theatrical release or intial VHS release...but it gets my vote for absolute worst 80's soundtrack ever. Harlod Faltermeyer, though extremely hot at the time (he had just done Beverly Hills Cop) sounds incredibly dated now. Though that's probably not fair to say....I'd have to admit he sounds dated because he created and shaped much of what we now think of as a stereotypical 80's sound. His music is more than just another generic example of it. So, kudos to Harry, but it still sounds pretty crappy now. (Yes, I must admit I can still plunk out a few lines of "Axel F" on the piano).

Checking out his wikipedia article, he has apparently been working only in Germany for many years, but just scored the much anticipated RPG game "Two Worlds".

The soundtrack has a few vocal numbers too, but noone I can put a name too...all utter garbage. I'll take the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack (Pointer Sisters!) over this any day.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Haiku For The Heck Of It

I burn you CDs
We haven't talked in nine years
You would have liked them

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

July's Mix CD

I've been pretty good this year about making a mix CD every month (which I mostly listen to in the car). I was a few days late for July, but here's the list -

1. Direct Hit - Art Brut
A great song for summer. Art Brut manages to completely avoid the sophmore slump with "It's a Bit Complicated"

2. Come Back (Light Therapy) - Josh Rouse
An older one that has been on my mind recently. Definitely not a summer song. May show up again on a winter compilation.

3. Could've Been Anyone - Aimee Mann
"Whatever" had been the missing piece in my Aimee Mann collection (well...that and the live album, and I don't have any Til Tuesday stuff). Definitely not her best and I had a hard time picking a song to put on the mix, but this one's pretty good.

4. Fairground - Graham Parker
Another song I've had around awhile, but I never really paid much attention to this album. I'm always into it when a GP song comes up on shuffle though, and I particularly liked this one when it came up the other day.

5. Shame - The Avett Brothers
This is a great album and leaves the feeling that the best from this band is yet to come.

6. Love That Boy - The Innocence Mission
I've been listening to this band since high school, and they're still incredibly under appreciated. This album is the best of the last few they put out.

7. Wrecking Force - Voxtrot
A band I discovered through this year's Pitchfork Festival. They've got the hooks. Lots of hooks. Weren't terribly convincing live....but on album...did I mention the hooks?

8. Song For Fay - Caroline Herring
This is on a compilation CD just out on Bloodshot Records - A Tribute to Larry Brown. I have no idea who Larry Brown is, or who Caroline Herring is, or who Fay is, but man I like this song.

9. God's Away on Business - Tom Waits
Another older one I've had around but never noticed till it recently came up on shuffle. This song has everything I love about Tom Waits - gritty growly vocals, odd rhythmns and instruments, and dark humor.

10. You Are My Face - Wilco
One of a number of stand-out tracks from their latest.

11. All Grown Up - Gore Gore Girls
Another new one from Bloodshot Records. A cover of a Crystals song (or at least a song they recorded). It's all irony here, but I think deep down it was all irony when it was originally recorded too. Now if someone would just cover the Crystals gem "He Hit Me (and it Felt Like a Kiss).

12. The Transfiguration - Sufjan Stevens
It's been very hard for me to get into Sufjan's back catalog having had Illinois as my introduction. Nothing can compare. I can't put my finger on why I like this song, but I do.

13. Rag and Bone - The White Stripes
One of the few songs from "Icky Thump" that I really like. Everything else just sounds too Led Zeppelin to me.

14. The Sun Also Sets - Ryan Adams
It's already August and Ryan Adams has only released one album this year, and it's superb. Right up there with Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. Sad too...especially this song.

15. Little Triggers - Elvis Costello
I'd been swearing for a long time to pick up some of Elvis' early albums, and finally started myself down that path with "This Year's Model". I'd never heard this song before, but can't get enough of it.

16. Trouble - Voxtrot

17. If the Brakeman Turns My Way - Bright Eyes
I had a hard time with this song at first, but eventually the chorus completely won me over. I'm a sucker for the background "movin' out" vocals on this one (Jim James I think?).

18. The Mesopotamians - They Might Be Giants
Good old fashioned TMBG fun. Who can resist?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Ron Santo Essential Commentary of the Game

"...our pitchers are throwing too many balls. You've got to throw strikes!"

Really? Strikes? Golly Ron, without you we'd have no clue as to the essential strategies of baseball.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Recent Movies

So I hate to be Comic Book Guy and start blogging about the Simpsons Movie right after seeing it, but at least I'm not doing it from a laptop in the movie theater (I swear!).
I'm not going to get into many details, just a few thoughts on why this movie is a bright spot in the Simpsons franchise -
  • It has what the show has lacked for a very long time - a solid emotional core. Think "Bart vs. Lisa" or almost any 1st season episode. Shows that had a heart without being sappy. (The movie at times pushes the limits, but manages not to go overboard).
  • The movie doesn't try and do too much. This really is an extended Simpsons episode (a good one). Yes, they throw jokes in there that say we know this a movie, but plot-wise it stays very true to the Simpsons format.
  • It has continuous broad and subtle satire that mostly hits its mark. There were a number of things that I was surprised weren't get laughs in the theater and I came to the conclusion that it was a young audience - Saturday afternoon and a ton of families. Homer's antics were getting tons of laughs, but some of the more current affairs related jokes were going over people's heads.
  • They didn't take license to be vulgar. Unlike the consistently obscene direct-to-DVD Family Guy movie, The Simpsons movie makes only gentle, infrequent use of it's PG-13 rating. With one or two exceptions, it may even be more suitable for kids than your average Simpsons episode these days.
  • While there were a number of plot points that were reminiscent of past Simpsons plots, there was only one instance where I really thought they were lingering too long on a plot element that had been done before (see "The Mysterious Voyage of Homer")
What's missing:
  • Sideshow Bob. Maybe they're holding out for a Sideshow Bob centered sequel?
  • Guest stars. There are 2 1/2 guest stars. I expected a lot more.
The other movie I've seen this summer is Ratatouille, which turned out to be a nice choice for my daughter's first movie theater movie (she did pretty good - apologies to the couple sitting front of us. We now know to sit in the rocking chair seats, behind the fixed seats). As far as Pixar films go, not the best one for kids. The cute animal screen time is minimal, while the adult humans doing unspectacular adult human things time is lengthy. It's a beautifully drawn and written movie though. Anyone who loves food should love this movie.

What kills me, is that Pixar has this almost unblemished (overlooking "Cars") track record of superb CGI cartoon movies (I can't even bring myself to refer to them as "kids'" movies). The stories are incredibly unique and well written, and appeal to both adults and kids, and almost completely avoid pop culture references and bodily function humor. Why are the other studios not taking note of this? Why do they keep putting out Shrek and other regurgitated crap? It seems to me a simple formula - imaginative, well written stories and good looking animation. You don't even need celebrity voices (Pixar does make extensive use of celebrity voices, but they're beside the point - they invite actors to come in an act out a character that was created for the story - not an animated version of themselves). I couldn't identify a single voice in Ratatouille, which is the way it should be.

In 30 years, Pixar movies will still be around (okay, even if they weren't from Disney, which guarantees that they will be re-released every 5 - 10 years to infinity and beyond). If Disney would let them, you'd be seeing Criterion editions of these films. With any luck, Shrek will just be a disgusting green pop-culture side note on VH1's "I Love the 00's"

Friday, July 27, 2007

Cereal Challenge #1

In which I compare cereals bought at Whole Foods with "mainstream" cereals.

Contender #1 - "Peace Cereal" brand Mango Passion Low Fat Crisp.
Calories - 250 calories per 1-1/4 cup w/ 1/2 cup of skim milk (I use 1%)
Fat - 1.5 grams, no saturated or trans fat
Sugar - 11g
Vitamins - Small amounts of A, C, Calcium and Iron
Selling points - It's Vegan, 96% organic, and 10% of the profits are "donated to peace". According to the box, the company sponsors "International Peace Prayer Day" in New Mexico. A bearded and turbaned man named Yogi Bhajan is pictured on the box, inviting consumers to "join us as we make peace: peace with each other, peace with the land, and peace with ourselves".

Opponent - Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries
Calories - 140 per 3/4 cup with 1/2 cup skim milk. So, Approx. 207 calories per 1-1/4 cup
Fat - 1.5 grams (1g saturated)
Sugar - 12g
Vitamins - 25% Daily allowance of Iron, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, & Zinc. 100% Folic Acid.
Selling points - "Find Jean LaFoote in disguise online! You could win a cash prize!"

Suprisingly, the Cap'n Crunch is the clear winner for nutritional value, if you don't mind some dyes and artificial flavors.
Taste wise, the Mango Passion is very good. Flakes and oat clusters are flavorful but not overbearing, and the freeze dried mango pieces soften up nicely and retain quite a bit of mangoey flavor.

The overall winner - This is a tough call. If 10% of peace cereal's profits went to, say, education, that might easily push it over the edge for me, but I don't hold out a whole lot of hope for the effectiveness of "International Peace Prayer Day" (sorry Yogi Bhajan). Cap'n Crunch is the supposedly sugary cereal my parents never let me eat, but I've learned to guiltily love as an adult (but won't let my child eat) - seeing how it stacks up nutritionally to an "adult" cereal that I wouldn't think twice about eating, I will enjoy it a little less guiltily from now on. Overall though, I have to go with Mango Passion Low Fat Crisp. Good, unique, flavor (I can't think of any other mango cereal options out there), and hey it's vegan. mostly organic, and doesn't have a cartoon sea captain on the box.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Attempts To Learn Cheese - #1 Druken Goat & Lincolnshire Poacher

The Cheese: Drunken Goat Wine Cured Spanish Goat Cheese
Purchased at: Whole Foods
Price per/lb: $13.99
Why chosen: I don't really know why I chose either of the cheeses I did. I am a complete noob at cheese, so my first challenge is discerning between cheeses that are to be snacked on versus cheeses for cooking. Something on the description card at the made this sound good and interesting.
Eaten with: "Whole Pantry Original Crostini", some sliced mango, and some 365 brand Cherry Vanilla soda.
Thoughts: The smell was pleasantly familiar to me, though I couldn't place it. The texture was soft, but not spreadable soft. Mildly flavorful. Very good. I would definitely buy it again.

The Cheese: Neals Yard Dairy English Cheese - Lincolnshire Poacher
Purchased at: Whole Foods
Price per/lb: $24.99
Why chosen: See above
Eaten with: See above
Thoughts: The smell was rather pungent and didn't make me particularly excited about eating it. The taste was also very strong and not particularly pleasant to my unrefined palate. I gave it a few tries, but did not eat much and will take it to the office tomorrow for whoever wants it. The dairy's website describes the cheese as "Smoother-textured than a cheddar with a fruity, nutty flavour that sometimes tastes pineappley". I didn't get that at all, but maybe I will give it one more try with that description in mind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Things I Learned From TV - "Moonlighting"

So kudos to this new channel on Comcast (I think it's basic cable), "Ion", that seems to show only episodes of the "Wonder Years" and "Alice".

I've been strangely obsessed with "Alice" lately in spite of still not having watched a whole episode of the show in, oh, 20 or more years. I think it began some weeks ago when I caught a bit of the movie "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and discovering for the first time that the show was a spin-off of this film. (I also just learned that Cheryl Ladd played Flo in the film version, then played Flo's short lived replacement "Belle" on the tv show, before she was replaced by Jolene, who seems to show up - the actress, not the character - every few months lately in movies or a TV guest spot)
I caught a few minutes of an episode last night that reminded me that I can say with certainty that this show introduced me to the concept of "moonlighting" (working a second job, presumably in the evenings). Mel was staunchly against his waitresses moonlighting, and Alice was always trying to do it. So I grew up thinking this was a huge deal and that if I ever got a job I better not do it or my boss would be very angry. Little did I know much of the country works 2 jobs to get by...and I actually moonlighted during my first real 9-5 job, working some evenings and weekends in the sky boxes at Wrigley Field.

As a side note - some new (to me) observations on the "Wonder Years":
The show was good because it was first a show about growing up, and second a show about a specific time period.
The later shows (I'm pretty sure the episodes I've been seeing are all from the last season) weren't very good. They were pushing too hard for sappy and forgot the funny.
They never really gave Danica McKellar (Winnie Cooper) much to do beyond react to Kevin. She never really had much dialogue beyond these little monologues meant to awaken Kevin to the ways of women.
Anyway....later seasons aside, here's hoping they someday manage all the music licensing issues and get some season sets out on DVD.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jobs I Don't Want #1

Air Conditioning / Heating repairman. Almost everywhere you work the AC or the heat is broken - you'd almost always be sweltering or freezing on the job.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Here's to You, Mr. Vonnegut

A long overdue thank you letter to Kurt Vonnegut -

Dear Mr. Vonnegut,

I owe you a word of thanks for saving my hide in High School. When I was a sophomore, my English teacher broke our class up into a number of small groups and assigned each a book to read and do a group project on. One group got David Copperfield, another got The Good Earth, and another Wuthering Heights. My group's assignment? Slaughterhouse Five. Not only did I read the assigned book, but everyone else in my group did too - something I'm fairly sure could not be said for the groups assigned the considerably more mammoth novels. It was a pleasure for once not to have to be one of the few participants in a group project that has actually done the work.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes, I recall thinking it was interesting. Did I understand it? Not a lick. Did I do any research to help my understanding? I don't really recall. Did I watch the movie? Yes. Was showing scenes from the movie a large part of our presentation (and the only part I remember)? Yes.

So thank you Mr. Vonnegut for writing a short interesting, book. A book that in my busy high school career, I had the time to finish. A book that for many years, until I read "Cat's Cradle" for a college assignment, allowed me to say, "Oh yeah, I've read Vonnegut. I like his stuff".

And oh yeah...I promise to re-read Slaughterhouse someday and try to truly understand and appreciate it...and to finally get around to David Copperfield. As for The Good Earth...I'm not making any promises.

Friday, June 8, 2007

In Depth Reporting

What a great full page Tribune article yesterday on the Crown Fountains at Millennium Park, by Emily Nunn. There are pipes and pumps in there to deliver the water? Amazing! You have to go underground to see it all? Wow! When it's hot outside, it's hot in there? Who would have thought it! Water drips in there? Say it isn't so! The photos are run by a computer? What crazy technology will they come up with next!

About as relevatory as Geraldo uncovering Al Capone's empty vaults.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Coffee Reviews Part 3 - Disappointment

In my quest for the great cup of coffee I discovered the concept of cold brewing. If you're not familiar - you drip cold water through grinds to create a coffee concentrate, which will keep indefinitely. The supposed advantage being that the result has considerably less acidity than traditionally brewed coffee. When you're ready to drink, you add hot water to taste. You could rig up your own, but never the DIYer, I purchased the Toddy Coffee System.

It was kind of a pain just to get to the point where I was ready to brew - you do a pound at a time. So first, I went out and bought a pound of beans, as I normally would. I soon realized I should have gotten those beans ground at the store as trying to grind a whole pound in a small home grinder is quite a chore. So, I delayed and waited to go buy some ground beans. When I finally brought home so ground coffee, I realized I hadn't gotten the right grind - this requires a very course grind. So once I finally got the right beans with the right grind I had to find a time when I could start brewing and be available twelve hours later - the recommended brewing period.

The result was definitely a non-acidic coffee with a very unique taste. Just not a taste I care for in the least. I played around a bit with the amount of hot water I added, and brewed a second batch to just to make sure I hadn't done something wrong the first time - nope, it tasted the same.

I do plan on making at least one more batch for iced coffee, which I drink quite a bit of during the summer (and tend to add cream or milk to, which I don't to add to hot coffee). But if that doesn't do anything for me, I'll have a Toddy Coffee system available for sale.

Coffee Reviews Part 2 - Coffee I Hate

I have friends who have long been unofficial promoters for the Coffee & Tea Exchange. I've been in a handful of times and it's kind of a unique and interesting place. They have these large open bins of beans, and you decide which you want and then an employee scoops it and bags it for you (and grinds it if you need that done). They have weekly specials and a couple of weeks ago B told me about a big sale right when I was running out of beans, so I checked it out. It only took me a few seconds to decide on "Steve's Espresso", which was on sale for a good price (and I tend to brew espresso roasts as regular coffee - I haven't been brewing my own espresso drinks lately, though that will soon change as the office has ordered a very low end espresso machine, at my request).

So I don't know who Steve is, but apparently he likes his espresso light and crappy. If I had bothered to look at the beans before I bought, I could have saved myself the trouble. They were extremely light brown - some almost green. No oil at all. A look at their website reveals that they do consider this to be a lighter espresso roast, but they also say it make great drip coffee. Not true. They have a columbian espresso they claim is the "darkest cup of joe you'll ever have". I may have to see if that's true.

Coffee Reviews Part 1 - Coffee I Love

In all the years I've been a coffee freak I've never really settled on one bean that I would choose as my all time favorite - until now...and I'm very surprised that it's coming from a grocery store. It's Allegro Extra Dark French Roast from Whole Foods. I think Allegro is an independent roaster that Whole Foods has adopted to be their main roaster. These beans are amazing - dark and bold, but not at all bitter. Perfect really.

I haven't tried any other beans from Allegro, but probably should see how their other roasts are.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Our Soundtrack Project

My friend LM sent me a great zine called Our Soundtrack Project which I finally read cover to cover tonight. It's a series of essays people have written about their memories and experiences of various songs. LM has two essays in it which bookend the zine.

As a music fan, I found the zine to be extremely engaging and a great idea. Much of the writing was solid and poignant, or just downright hilarious (a serious of essays by one author about various songs listened to while trying to score weed). I hesitate to say this as I may one day try and get published in this zine, but I found the editor's 2 included pieces to be the only ones that were particularly trite. I appreciate the range of music covered too...from Christina Aguilera (thankfully short) to the Smoking Popes, to a few bands I've never heard of.

So give it a look or throw it a submission -

They Say the Dardnest Things

Jennifer to Linnea who was in the bathroom - "Does your tummy hurt"?

Linnea: "No, just my feelings"

Filling in the Blanks Part I - Patty Griffin @ Schubas, 1/28/07

So one of the original intentions of this blog was to track concerts I go to and music I listen to. The first half of the year is almost over and I have failed miserably. I really do want a record of the shows I've seen, so I'm going to attempt to backtrack a bit.

If you're not one who goes to concerts or follows music, here's a nugget of info you might not know - before embarking on a major tour, most artists do some warm up dates - shows at smaller venues intended to give the band a chance to gel and work out the kinks in the new songs. This was the gist of this Patty Griffin show.

I first discovered Patty when she was doing a sparsely attended in-store at Borders on Michigan Avenue behind her debut "Living With Ghosts". I showed up on the strength of a recommendation in the Reader, but having not previously heard her music. I was instantly hooked. She played Schubas a number of times over the next few years, but I always had some other pressing commitment, and I didn't get a chance to see her again until she was playing larger venues (The Park West in Chicago) on the 1000 Kisses tour. So, an opportunity to finally see her at my favorite Chicago venue, even though she's outgrown it, was an awesome prospect.

So, 4+ months later, what do I remember about this show? First, Ryan Bingham opened. Never heard of him, really liked him, though I don't have a very clear memory of what he was all about. Loud, hard, country-folk-rock if I remember correctly. Almost bought a CD, but didn't.

Patty was great. The setlist was almost all songs from the then unreleased Children Running Through (still probably my least favorite Patty album, though I haven't given it a whole lot of time). She did a few older ones (and one really old one, 'Regarding Mary', I believe, that I recognized from an old bootleg I have). She played some piano. Had a great band with her. She was relaxed and funny. It was a great show...well worth it. It would have been nice to hear some more familiar tunes, but we went into it understanding that the point of the show was to work out the new stuff, so there really wasn't any disappointment. She came back in March and played the Vic for what I assume was probably a more balanced show, but we opted to sit that one out.

Some other notes - ended up standing next to a girl I knew from North Park. Always thought she was an English major as she was in so many of my classes, but turns out she wasn't. Her companion for the evening, who I didn't know, turned out to be the former roommate of a good friend of mine.
Standing in line for the bar, veritable Chicago radio personality Lin Brehmer was standing right next to me not doing anything, but I passed on the opportunity to chat him up. Though there was a time I listened to him nearly everyday, I couldn't come up with anything worth saying to him.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Notes to Myself

Things I'd like to learn about when I have time -

Phlegm - it makes so much of my life miserable. What is it? Does it have a positive use?

The water system - I have no clue about how the water in my home/city works and I have a hunch I probably have some very strange and laughable ideas about it.

And in the time it took me to write this, I probably could have hit wikipedia and gotten everything straightened out.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Battle of the Corporate Lattes Pt. 2

Strangely enough, the newest latte at Starbucks is the "Dulce de Leche". I've had 2 (whole milk, no whip), and don't find it to be quite as good as the Cinnamon Dolce. Once again, I believe the flavoring is just a special syrup, though the website does promise "toffee sprinkles" which I am yet to experience or identify (it's possible I'm forfeiting these when I banish the whip cream). It would be better if they used real caramel instead of a flavoring.

I thought I was done with hot drinks until fall, but that good old Chicago weather got cold again.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

While I'm Picking On NPR Peronsalities...

Terry Gross had a great interview on Fresh Air the other day with scientist and devout atheist Richard Dawkins. I was interested to hear it as I had heard a bit about his new book ("The God Delusion") and heard him painted as being overly zealous in his anti-religion crusade. Hearing him talk though he really is pretty easy to swallow (though not necessarily to agree with).

But anyway....Terry, in asking him about evolution in relation to morality, noted all our horrible problems - "wars, violence, rape, and decapitations"! Man...not a day goes by that I don't have to kick one or more severed heads out of the way just to walk down the street. It really is an epidemic.

The show can be found here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

2 Great Meals

What a good of eating. First, I made my second ever trek out to Hot Doug's Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium to gather lunch for the office. I can't say enough about this place. This is the second time we've faxed in a large order for pick up - both times the orders were ready when we got there, and the staff was incredibly friendly. When you're going to a hot dog joint that serves the likes of " Blue Cheese Pork Sausage with Creamy Pear Sauce and Smoked Almonds" you almost expect a certain level of pretension and stand-offishness from the staff. This is Chicago after all. But no deal. Nice folks. Both times too the orders have been perfectly assembled without a single condiment mistakenly missed or added.

And the food? Oh man....I never thought I could like any kind of "encased meat" so much. Both times I've tried one of their pricey weekly specials. Last time it was a Ribeye sausage with swiss and horseradish sauce ($7). It was wonderful. The sausage was flavorful - the toppings a great match. Today it was Duck Sausage with citrus mustard, tilsiter cheese (I don't pretend to have a clue what kind of cheese that is), and mandarin oranges ($7). This one, while still very good, wasn't perfect. The mustard was a bit too much and completely overpowered. When I got to the end of the roll I finally got a mostly unadorned bite of the sausage and discovered it was excellent on it's own, making me wish I had actually tasted much more of it. Other folks in the office have ordered a nice cross section of items from both the regular menu, and the weekly specials - including $1.25 hot dogs, $3 beer soaked brats, chicken sausage (The Shawon Dunston), and others. No complaints - not a single one. Many positive remarks.

The only caveat I would offer is in regard to their much ballyhooed "duck-fat fries". They're only available Friday and Saturday and are $3.50 for a large helping. We did a side by side comparison between the DFF and the regular handcut fries and couldn't really discern a flavor or significant texture difference. The regular fries are great - save yourself $1.50 and skip the duck fat.

The place is a bit off the beaten path, though not far off the Kennedy. No dedicated parking, but both times I've been there (weekday lunch hour) unmetered street parking was available nearby. The first time I was there, there was a line out the door and it was about a 10 minute wait (I was then informed that having faxed my order in I could have bypassed the line). Today there was almost no line when I arrived, but by the time I left there were about 5 or 6 people waiting to order. There is a moderate amount of seating, though the first time I was there it seemed people were experiencing short waits for a table.

Dinner tonight was also excellent. We went to the Celtic Knot in Evanston. This was my 3rd time there, and the best food I've had there. I always have a hard time choosing as so much on their menu sounds great, but I went with the Stilton Burger tonight and it was the best I've ever had. The Stilton was perfect - very flavorful, but not overly pungent, along with a good amount of carmelized onions and mustard. The steak fries that came with it were also very good.

Jennifer had the "Celtic Collection" which is a sampler plate with fish & chips, corned beef and cabbage, and lamb stew. She was very happy with all of it. I was quite fond of the horseradish sauce that came with it and kept dipping my fries in it.

Service wasn't horrible, but it wasn't great either. Our waitress seemed to be the only one in the dining room area and while everything was fine and happened in a timely manner, there were no smiles or pleasantries at all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Podcast of the Week

This week's podcast highlight is NPR's "All Songs Considered". This podcast, which varies in length and content from week to week, usually leaves it to host Bob Boilen to sound old and nerdy as he discusses the latest in indie and alternative rock (and various other genres). For this week's podcast though he drags Robert Christgau, Meredith Ochs, and Will Hermes along to raise the geek factor considerably. These four could not sound anymore like they belong on NPR, and any less like they should be discussing Modest Mouse, Wilco, Arcade Fire, etc....It's like if your mom was all of a sudden into your favorite band.

The show's subject - Spring Music Preview. It is a great chance to hear yet to be released tracks from Wilco, Bright Eyes, Mavis Staples, Tori Amos, Kings of Leon and others.

The show's low point - the reviewers together singing a bit of Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" before playing a cover version by a country singer named Elizabeth Cook (from whom they also play a song called "Sometimes It Takes Balls To Be A Woman").

Also check out - "Guest DJ" episodes from some weeks back. There is one with Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and one with Lily Allen. Unfortunately too often Bob just leads them into playing what he wants to hear rather than something they've chosen. I think it's Conor Oberst who tells Bob he was heavily influenced by a certain track on an album, but Bob decides he'd rather play a different track from that album.

Bobby Bare Jr. at Schubas w/Dr. Dog and Jeffrey Lewis 3/24/07

I only have this to say about opener Jeffrey Lewis at Schubas Saturday night - If you're a relatively unknown opening act, you have not earned the right to scold an audience for talking during your set. Yes, it was rude. Yes, I'd be frustrated too. But you have to do your time before you get to tell people to shut it. I don't care if you have quirky visual art to show while you sing a Nirvana cover. I don't care if you have a song that name drops Will Oldham and whines about being an indie artist no one has heard of. I don't care if you run your acoustic through a processor that makes it sound like an electric on almost every song. I might have been interested. The second you started whining at the audience, you lost me.

Everything about Dr. Dog screams jam band to me, but they don't jam. They look like a jam band and their audience seems to have that kind of devotion, and they definitely seem to owe some musical debt to the Grateful Dead, but their songs are way too tight for the analogy to go any farther. Their music definitely lives in the 60's / 70's. Beatlesque seems too light of a term to describe many of their songs. One of their 2 lead vocalists is a dead ringer for Lennon (while at the same time looking much like that Muppet who plays the saxophone, with the hat and shades), and they don't work very hard to keep anyone from drawing the Beatles' comparison. I had checked their album out a bit before the show and kind of liked it. I find the songs sticking in my head quite a bit. They were even more interesting live. I still can't count myself a big fan, but I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid seeing them again, nor would I advise anyone against checking them out.

Bobby Bare Jr. and the Young Criminals Starvation League took the stage about 12:30am (after quite a few Dr. Dog fans had cleared out). I'm getting way too old for a show that starts that late. He was well worth it though. He opened the show solo acoustic with "Let's Rock and Roll", then added banjo or mandolin plus vocals from Deanna Varagona for 3 more songs (Valentine, Mayonnaise Brain, and I'll Be Around) before breaking out the electric guitar and full band. Aside from the acoustic opening, this was a pretty standard BBJ show - which is to say it was great. This was the first show I've seen since Longest Meow came out (though he done some songs from it at the earlier shows I've been to) and I was really looking forward to seeing Deanna pumping out the Baritone Sax on "The Heart Bionic" - she didn't disappoint. Deanna really is the YCSL's secret weapon and I hope they keep her around for a long, long time. I wish they'd use her more vocally too. I'm dying to hear a live version of "Your Favorite Hat" with her and Bobby, but so far they've never delivered. The rest of the band was superb as usual too - and really enjoying themselves, which from an audience standpoint always makes a show a bit more fun.

The rest of the set list, in no particular order:

Monk at the Disco
Demon Valley
Bionic Beginning / The Heart Bionic
Gun Show
Uh Wuh Oh
Back to Blue
Flat Chested Girl
Borrow Your Cape

Sister Golden Hair (Solo acoustic) - there is a version of this up on his MySpace page
Where is My Mind (Solo acoustic)
The Lion Sleeps Tonight (with Dr. Dog)
Terrible Sunrise
Stop Crying

I'm surprised there isn't more to this setlist, but as I scan over album track listings I'm fairly certain I'm not missing anything. I know there weren't any other covers, new songs, or Bare Jr. songs.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Battle of the Corporate Lattes

Starbucks Cinammon Dolce Latte (skim, no whip cream) - Very Good

Seattle's Best Honey Cinammon Latte (skim, no whip cream though I'm not sure if they even usually put it on or not) - Pretty Bad

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Filling in the Blanks Part 2: Canada, Page France, Margot & The Nuclear So and Sos - Beat Kitchen 3/9

Second in my attempt to revisit shows I saw this year but failed to blog about at the time - some of this post was actually composed shortly after the show, but never finished.

I took indie rock Jason (from here on referred to as IRJ) to the Beat Kitchen to see Canada and Page France (Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos were headlining, but I wasn't so much there to see them).

I thought I had never been to the Beat Kitchen and was excited to check out one of the few venues in Chicago I haven't seen, but after getting there I was fairly certain that I saw Starflyer 59 there some 10 or more years ago. I was very happy with the venue in that parking was easy within a block.

I arrived a few minutes before the schedule 10pm start time and was disappointed to find Canada already in the middle of a song. Who starts a show early? I had only become familiar with this band earlier in the week in anticipation of the show. I like quite a few of the tracks from their album "This Cursed House" and like them even better live. They've got a fun setup with 2 cellists, xylophone, keyboard, tambourines, and guitar/bass/drums. They do some very nice stuff instrumentally and I find myself wishing they did more instrumental numbers. The closest comparison I can come up with The Danielson Familie on prozac.

Page France came on shortly after, with a very similar setup and MO (more xylophone), but much more upbeat. I came to this band through Pitchfork and was instantly smitten. I've since come to the conclusion that they are somewhat Christian (they're playing Cornerstone this summer). While their lyrics make unique and regular use of Christian imagery (and make up quite a bit of their own), their never seems to be any message (this is a good thing in my book). They put on an excellent, all to be brief, set made up of about 1/2 songs I knew and 1/2 I didn't. The biggest disappointment was the female vocals were not nearly loud enough. The band was clearly enjoying themselves. Canada joined them at the end for a number with lots of handclaps, tambourines, and a drum circle. Fun stuff - can't wait to see them again.

I tried to stay for Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos. I've heard such good things about them. I listened to a bit of their latest album but it didn't really grab me. I stayed through one song, but if this band is going to hook me, it's probably not going to be a midnight with a mostly inattentive crowd.

A Picture Can't Replace 1000 Words : Review - This American Life the TV Show

(Warning to LM - pee is mentioned repeatedly in the following blog. I'm not joking).

I see today the Tribune Magazine's cover story is on Ira Glass and the TAL TV show. I've been meaning to get my thoughts out on this and figure I should do it before I read the article.

I called Comcast to pay a bill a few weeks ago and they made me an offer on Showtime that I couldn't refuse as I was anxious to see the forthcoming television version of my favorite radio program, This American Life. Though the show doesn't officially premiere until later this month, I was pleasantly surprised to find the first episode available on demand. Even though it was very late and I needed to get to bed, I couldn't resist watching it right away.

Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly/Serenity) has made the accusation in a number of DVD commentaries that TV is too often just radio with pictures - talking heads spitting out a script. So what is the expectation when radio becomes TV? I wonder what people expected and how they reacted when their favorite radio programs made the move to TV in the 50s?

There's not much about the TV version of TAL that won't be familiar to fans of the radio version. The show opens with a humorous mini-story to introduce the weeks' topic. The story, a woman's reminiscence of a school field trip in which she urinated on the bus ride, is re-enacted. Stories that involve puddles of urine are, in my opinion, best left to the imagination - but there, in the first 5 minutes of the first ever television episode of TAL, is a puddle of pee (or some appropriate facsimile). Not a good start in my opinion.

Skip to Ira Glass sitting at a desk in in the middle of a rural road. He introduces the show and the topic, much like he always does on the radio, but this time we get to see him. And he's sitting in the middle of the road. This may be the most interesting visual of the whole show.

Now to today's show in 2 acts (it was late and I sadly don't remember the topic). First act - a beloved bull that was cloned, only to be not much like the first bull. Wait, I've heard this one before. Yes, this story was previously aired on the radio program. Well, there must be something interesting to see then right? Well, we all know what a bull looks like right? We can all drum up a mental image of a salt-of-the-earth rancher and his wife. The only visual that really could not be replaced here is of the dead bull's hide being pulled out of the closet. The rancher even got mauled by the cloned bull while the crew was with him, but if they got video of it, they've spared us the sight (why couldn't they also spare us the sight of a puddle of urine on a bus floor?).

Act 2 - a group of performance artists in NYC pull one off on a struggling small time rock band by learning all of their songs and filling the room at one of their gigs and singing along and acting like they were really into it. Wait, I've heard this one before too. Oh, so that's what the band looks like. Is this footage someone took from the actual gig, or a re-enactment?

It all feels a bit like cheap History Channel re-enactments (why is this even on Showtime?) and I'm afraid the TAL folks have really blown it here. It's the existing TAL fans that are most likely to watch the show initially and create any kind of buzz about it. It's an insult to the fans to just repackage previously aired stories. I'm not sure who the producers of this TV version are, but it seems like they've put video cameras in the hands of radio people rather than putting a great concept into the hands of experienced filmmakers. I hate to say it, but at least as far as the episode goes, TAL on TV really is just radio with pictures.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Further Notes Concerning The Vacant Lot Across The Street From My Office

The doorless, graffiti covered linen truck has now moved to the far east side of the lot. We were all amazed that this van is movable and someone must be more or less "caring" for it.

M: I wouldn't mind having that van

Me: Yes, but it's probably got a lot of pee in it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Bad Week for Mirrors

While Jen's mom is out of town we have a babysitter using our mini-van to pick Linnea up from school, and Jennifer is driving her mom's car to work. The first time K went to adjust the mirror in the mini-van, it fell off. Then today someone broke the driver's side mirror on Jen's mom's car. Kind of wierd that they both happened so close to each other and really because of the same circumstances (though I have to believe the rearview mirror would have fallen off for us if one of us had happened to be the next person to touch it).

Mad Skills

Since I've been taking Linnea to school in the morning I've had to work on my ponytail skills (is there a difference between ponytails and pigtails?). I have a ways to go yet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Taught Sunday School this morning for high schoolers/middle schoolers. It's been a long time since I've done any real "teaching" in youth ministry (since Durango?). It went okay. I'm not a great public speaker but for whatever reason I like to keep trying (I don't think it's because I like hearing myself talk...but could be). I try and do things in a discussion format as much as went over ok today, but not super. I barely knew any of the kids, which I think both helps and hurts.
I realized that topic wise I am always much more interested in trying to save kids (both Christian and non) from the church and Christianity than I am in trying to "get them saved" in a spiritual sense. Having grown up in the church and gone to Bible School and been involved with so many different ministries I've really come to believe that nothing can kill your faith quite like the church, and nothing can turn a well meaning Christian into a complete ahole quite like the church.
I think I've felt a lot of guilt in the past about not feeling particularly called to standard "evangelism", but I'm beginning to think that there's a place and a need for people with my calling, just as much as there is for "evangelists". As I talked about this morning, Jesus spent a ton of time trying to save his followers from becoming like the religious leaders (pharisees) and trying to save the pharisees from themselves.

In other wierd youth ministry news - the pastor at Jen's church stopped her yesterday and asked about me, apparently offering some sort of paid youth ministry position. I assumed this was some sort of assistant position, until Jen told me they announced the youth director's resignation this morning. My thoughts before this news was that if they needed an extra body I might be able to do their Sunday afternoon youth group or help out on a trip or something, but now no thanks. I'm not interested in being an interim, and that kind of falls in with the whole issue of callings. I know my gift is not in taking over a program that is probably falling apart.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rickie Lee Jones

Downloaded (legally) Rickie Lee Jones' "Sermon On Exposition Boulevard" the other day and am really enjoying it. Have never been a fan (or not a fan) of her in the past but heard some interesting buzz about this album and that it is in part musical interpretations of the Gospel of John, so I was intrigued. Turns out it is a great album. Reminds me much of Victoria Williams, with some of the rambling nature of the Hold Steady.

I asked myself if I hadn't heard about the Biblical angle before getting the album, how much would I ascribe to it? There certainly are heavy Biblical allusions in some songs, but it all offers a unique take on things. One of my favorites lyrically is "Where I Like It Best" about prayer and contrasting TV preachers with Jesus' admonition to not make a big scene about it.

Also enjoying Delta Spirit "I Think I've Found It", though I just got it today. I discovered these guys while looking into the Cold War Kids (they're on CWK's old label and touring with them now or soon). I actually like them better than CWK. The best comparison is The Strokes with a lot more soul. A couple of free MP3s are available at the above website, as well as at their MySpace page.

Also picked up the new Patty Griffin CD today and an old Moutain Goats album, but haven't listened to either yet.

Seen on the CTA:

Redline Northbound Thursday 5:15pm - a caucasian woman with 3 grocery bags full of fortune cookies.

Purple Line Northbound Thursday 5:30pm - a young man standing near by the doors, drawing in the condensation on the windows. It seemed a strange thing to do in public space in the company of strangers....something you do when no one is looking or you are among friends.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

He can blow saves and read too!

The best thing I've discovered on Comcast On Demand in a long time - "Cubs Read". 10 - 15 minute videos of Cubs' players reading books to school children. Currently available - Juan Pierre, Ryan Dempster, and Scott Eyre.

Best moment - Juan Pierre, reading "Ziggy's Blue Ribbon Day", and having to read the all too relevant line "Ziggy's best was worse than everyone elses". Juan also fields the question, "What do you like to read now"? His answer, "magazines". If his montone reading of a childrens' book doesn't spark the kids' interest in great literature, I'm sure his great love of magazines will.

Unfortunately these little gems don't appear to be on YouTube. If you're in Chicago and have Comcast On Demand, they're under "Get Local".

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Rhett Miller at The Chicago History Museum, 2/7/07

A fun, lightly publicized show tonight at the Chicago History Museum. We'd never been before, so I suppose the show served its purpose. Escaping the opening set by Dave (wanna be Matthews) Tamkin, we wandered around a bit and found it pretty interesting - lots of stuff on the World's Fairs, Sports Teams, The El Trains. We didn't get around to the Chicago Fire or Al Capone, and I am remiss that I didn't find the special exhibit on Chicago music, which apparently features Bloodshot Records.

It was a nice setup. Your $15 (advance) ticket got you into the museum and the concert, as well as a free cocktail. The exhibits weren't crowded at all, which was very nice, and the room where the music was was full, but not packed in.

It's probably not fair to liken opener Dave Tamakin to Dave Matthews just because he plays acoustic guitar and his band prominently features a violinist, whose style sounds much like that of the violin player in DMB. But the music was that same slightly jammy, fairly bland acoustic based pop/rock/shlock. Next to nothing stood out. They did a cover of Baba O'Riley and he really sounded more like he was picking wildflowers out in those fields rather than fighting for his meals. Just because your band can pull off a song technically, doesn't mean you should do it.

Rhett on the other hand was a one man ball of fire. He came on right around 7:30 and didn't let up until the 9pm "curfew" required that he take his final bow. While we caught him last year on his solo band tour (is that an oxymoron? I just mean he had a band backing him that was not the Old 97's), which was great, but I really enjoyed seeing him solo acoustic for the first time. He was clearly happy to be there and having a great time. Because Rhett's songs are based around strong melody and wordplay they hold up just as well on an acoustic guitar as they do with a band, and are aided even more by the vigor Rhett puts into his performance.

My attempt at a set list (in no order) -

Big Brown Eyes
This Is What I Do
Help Me Suzanne
My Valentine
Fireflies (Rhett singing both parts)
Buick City Complex
Singular Girl
Our Love
The El
World Inside the World
Come Around
Four Eyed Girl
Terrible Vision
Melt Show
Four Leaf Clover
The One (he said this was an Old 97's song that never got recorded)
Ziggy Stardust
Rollerskate Skinny
Designs on You
Barrier Reef
Time Bomb

A great set list, and as I recall very similar to the solo band show last year. My only disappointment was nothing from "Fight Songs". But otherwise he hit all my other "must hears".

In one final note, I continue to be a "dumb ass" magnet at concerts. We got stuck standing right next to this lady that 1) kept hitting me with her large purse 2) would "whoop" after almost every line in many songs and 3) sang along very loudly and out of tune. We finally moved back. There was quite a bit of chatter towards the back where we ended up, but it certainly was easier to tune out than someone trying to compete with Rhett. Lets leave the singing to the professionals folks.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Guy Clark, Joe Ely, John Hiatt, and Lyle Lovett at the Chicago Theatre, Jan. 19th, 2007

I'm way overdue on this one, but here goes -

I had a wierd experience last fall - Unaware of any future tour plans, one day the thought actually went through my head "I really wish those guys (Clark, Ely, etc..) would come to Chicago. The next day I found out that they were. So using a very old Ticketmaster gift certificate, we secured the cheapest seats at the Chicago Theatre.

I have no complaints about the cheap seats at the Chicago Theatre. The only other time I'd been in there, we had 2nd row seats, and this time I felt I actually got to see more of this gorgeous hall. We were in the last balcony, but we were center, and could see perfectly well.

I've listened to alot of bootlegs of these shows, so there weren't a lot of surprises. Four guys on stage with guitars, taking turns singing their songs. Participation on each other's songs was minimal. Stage banter was also minimal, though they weren't completley deadpan. They were all great and all did songs I was hoping to hear.

My best recollection of a setlist (by artist, not order of performance) -

Guy Clark - The Cape, Things That Work, Out in the Parking Lot, Walking Man, Magdalene, She Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Joe Ely - Me and Billy the Kid, Are You Listenin' Lucky (I may be wrong on this one), Silver City, I'm Gonna Strangle You Shorty, All Just To Get To You, One more I don't know the name of
John Hiatt - Memphis in the Meantime, Cry Love, Crossing Muddy Waters, Wintertime Blues, Drive South, One more I don't know the name of
Lyle Lovett - North Dakota, Fiona, Step Inside This House, It's All Downhill From Here? (New One?), More Pretty Girls Than One, and on that was kind of dark and brooding that I didn't recognize at all
All - White Freightliner Blues (Townes Van Zandt), and one other I'm totally blanking on

At the Supermarket

One of the strangest signs I've ever seen is where the razors are kept at the Jewel on Chicago Ave in Evanston. The blades are kept in these plastic bins with doors on them, and the sign on the doors says "Lift Door - Alarm Will Sound". This is goes completely against logic and human nature. Why would I want to do something that would cause an alarm to sound? I kid you not, the first time I saw this I walked away without getting the razors I needed.

I've since been a bit braver (and stubblier). When you lift the door, sure enough a local alarm sounds. I wouldn't even call it an alarm - more of an alert. It stops when you put the door back down. Razor blades are expensive and they must have a particular shoplifting problem with them?

I think the sign definitely needs to be amended, but I'm not sure what to suggest. It's hard to come up with something that would reassure legitimate razor customers, yet still deter shoplifters. You have to wonder though if they're not losing more money by deterring legitimate customers such as myself who don't like to hear alarms sounding on their behalf.

This from the same store where I had to fill out a one page form to buy cough syrup...(and yes, they've heard all the meth lab jokes, and no longer laugh).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Guess I'll Have To Settle For Wheel of Fortune

I took the Jeopardy contestant search test online last night. Apparently they do this once a year - you have to register and then take it at the same date/time as everyone in your time zone. The test is 50 short answer questions (or technically "answers") and you only have 15 seconds for each question before it automatically moves you on to the next question. Since it is short answer, they apparently grade them by hand. You have to answer 35 or more correct to be put into the pool from which they randomly call people in for the next stage of interview/testing. I didn't try and keep track mentally, but there is no way I hit 35. A few of them I just had brain freeze on, some I just plain didn't know, and some I would have gotten with a few more seconds (and of course some I got right). I got Stephen Colbert and Steve Carrell mixed up (I said Colbert played the lead on The Office - I of course confuse them because they were both on the Daily Show). I couldn't remember the name of the Chilean dictator that had just been all over the news (Pinochet). Didn't know who was elected President in 1896 (McKinley?), and didn't have enough time to come up with a Crossword Clue M (8 letters) for "Proverbially Slow Syrup" (molasses).

This is the second time I've tried and failed. The first time was much more exciting as I actually got to go to a hotel downtown and take the test with a bunch of other people. The test there was the same basic format, but hand written. Even there you only hear whether you pass or fail. I was fairly confident with that one that I was very close to getting 35. Not so much this time.

Though I'm still certain I could be the next Ken Jennings (without the Mormonism), I must say the test is pretty fair. Contestants on the show don't have time to mull things over. If you can't think fast sitting alone in front of your computer screen, how are you going to do in front of an audience with the lights and cameras and competition?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ron Sexsmith at Schubas, 1/16/07

One of my main goals with this blog is to keep track of shows I go to. I would love at the end of the year to have a record of them all. Here it is only January and I'm already two shows behind, with a third coming up this weekend! I better get caught up....

Tuesday night of last week I headed out by myself to Ron Sexsmith at Schubas. I know I'm getting old, as a 9pm show on a weeknight seemed really late to me! I guess it's just me, as he pulled a pretty solid crowd.

Kim Taylor opened. Earlier that day I was downloading some of her stuff to check her out (legally - from EMusic), and first thought "wow - she reminds me a lot of Over the Rhine". Eventually I somehow came around the fact that I had actually seen her open for Over The Rhine in Dec. 2005 at The Old Town School of Folk Music. I suspect the song that was really reminding me of Over The Rhine actually had Karyn Berquist on background vocals. Anyway, she opened the show with her acoustic guitar, and I find her to be a slightly above average singer-songwriter. I definitely enjoyed her more this time than I did the last. Partly I think the smaller setting serves her better. A couple songs from her latest CD particularly impressed me - "People" and "My Dress is Hung". Apparently she owns a coffee house in Cincinnati.

Ron had a band with him - guitar, bass, and drums - all fine musicians, and played a solid hour and a half set. I won't try to attempt a set list, but he hit most, if not all, of his albums, and did 1 cover, though I can't for the life of me remember what. He did a short little solo acoustic section that included Strawberry Blonde and God Loves Everyone.

I can't put my finger on what it is that I love about Ron. In the hands of a less skilled performer his songs could drip schmaltz, but they never do with him. They're often love songs full of sincerity and optimism, with little nuggets of insight into humanity. Great melodies. He's got the whole package, but never comes off as pretentious (on record or live).

I fully enjoyed this show - no complaints, but for some reason can't find too much to say about it. As the evening wore on I got a bit tired and less engaged. Strangely this was my 3rd time seeing Ron (a previous Schubas show, and 1 at Martyrs) and I can barely recollect those sets either. But that is not at all to say that he is not great live - he really is.

If you want more info, you can check out another mini-review from a blog here (with image of actual physical setlist!). Or better yet, watch it - apparently someone was stealthily taping the show and has posted quite a bit of it to YouTube - check it out here.

Oh, and maybe I'm just extra-sensitive after the recent Hold Steady debacle - but huge kudos to Schubas for the sound at this show. It was near perfect.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

More Construction Thoughts

I always wonder if the construction workers look into office windows and says "Look at that - 1 guy working and 3 guys standing around drinking coffee".

Notes Concerning the Vacant Lot Across the Street From My Office

Strange things that have shown up there over the past few months:

Large portable floodlights, which we have never seen turned on.
An old truck - looks like a linen truck. Covered in grafitti. No back door. The other day some orange pylons showed up inside.

A sign that says "New Retail Development". Doesn't seem like a good idea to me. I can just imagine the advertisement "Prime location in heart of run down industrial area one block from Cabrini Green". Good luck with that. As for us local employees, we're all praying for a giant food court. Come on Panda Express.

After weeks of inactivity, a crew arrived today to tear down the lone electrical pole in the lot. I didn't notice this until it was already carved up and on a trailer. I wish had gotten to see them carving it up. Yes, my job is a bit on the boring side.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The First Show of the Year

As it worked out, my first concert of the year was on the first day of the year. Jen and I went to see the Hold Steady at the House of Blues.

Not on the bill that I had seen, a local band called Sybaris opened. I thought they were talented, but not my cup of tea. Female vocalist, kind of hard. Luckily they only did 1/2 an hour.

Next up was Chin Up Chin Up. We had missed them at the Pitchfork Festival this summer, so I was curious. I'd listened to a few of their songs online and was intrigued. I enjoyed them musically, but the lead singers' vocals grated on me after awhile. The sound wasn't spectacular, so that probably didn't help. If they were at another festival I was at, I'd check them out, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see them again.

After this summer's great drizzly Sunday afternoon show at Lollapalooza, I had much anticipation for The Hold Steady, and was excited to introduce Jen to them. Unfortunately the sound and the crowd around us were both horrible and put a major damper on the evening. I could barely understand a word Craig said, even when he was talk-singing as he does through much of the songs. I first chalked it up to some hearing problems I suspect I have, based on experiences at a few other concerts, but when I compared notes later with Jen and B & C, they all complained about the sound too. A nationally recognized chain such as the House of Blues should be able to do better than that. The sound guy must have been hung over from New Year's Eve.

It seems 9 out of 10 shows I go to, I'm a magnet for large, loud, idiots, and the guy that ended up next to me at this show was the king of them all. I've never found the Hold Steady's music to be particularly romantic, but almost every son moved this guy to make out and cuddle with this girlfriend. Apparently she is herself unable to sway or move with the music and required his large gangly arms around her the whole evening. I understand it's a small crowded place and your personal space will invaded and incidental contact with strangers will be made, but these people had no regard for anyone around them. Jen in particular was body slammed until she couldn't stand it anymore and we moved out of the floor area.

I think behind the bad sound the Hold Steady were putting on a good show. Good song selection - most of Boys and Girls with a good mix of older stuff (Cattle and the Creeping Things, Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Killer Parties, The Swish, Stevie Nix, and a few more).

So not a stellar experience to kick off the new year. Already a number of concerts on the schedule for Jan/Feb, so hopefully things will turn around.

As Seen on the CTA

Tuesday PM, Red Line and Purple Line Northbound - Me with my fly open the whole way home...and sitting in one of the sideways facing seats for all to see. My apologies to anyone who had to witness this sad sight. *Blush*

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

What We're Reading On The CTA

Tuesday AM, Red Line, stoic looking man in green turtleneck sweater reading Hemingway (For Whom the Bell Tolls).