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.