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May 2005


I haven't written much about music, other than my own, on this blog.  I guess I don't consider myself much of a music critic.  I know what I like and, when music grabs me, nothing anybody says can pry it away. 

I'm the only straight guy I know who openly admits to loving Belle & Sebastian.  But it doesn't end there, I also like Rufus Wainwright, Mercury Rev, Kings of Convenience, you get the picture (not so "manly").

To follow-up my Seattle music rant (and with my Seattle departure just days away) I'm thinking about all of the great indie music concerts I've seen over the past 4 years.  I'd like to share some of the highlights:

My brother was visiting from Wisconsin that weekend.  They played Graceland, which holds maybe 800 people.  This is a rock band that fills stadiums around the world, and they brought all of their energy that night.

Belle & Sebastian (2 times)
This band changed my life while I was still living in Colorado.  I love all of their songs and they are the best band in the world.  They don't tour much, and years ago I never thought I'd see them play  in my lifetime (let alone twice).  Seeing them also forced me to come to terms with the fact that they are, indeed, mere human beings. 

Rufus Wainwright (3 times)
The first time I saw Rufus was at Seattle's annual music festival, Bumbershoot.  I caught his show after a long day of other great concerts and he opened my ears to a new kind of music all his own.  Don't ask me to categorize it.

Badly Drawn Boy
Prior to the show, I ordered a drink over Damon Gough's shoulder (lead singer).  He turned around and looked at me as though he expected me to ask for an autograph...or at least say something...but I only recognized him when he went on stage.  He's one of the better Brit-pop songwriters around.

Elliot Smith
I went to an Elliot Smith concert within a year of his death.  I nearly tripped on him as he came out on stage.  I was on my way to the restroom and we sort of crossed paths.  I'm sure he didn't notice, as he was really in a drug-induced haze.  He came on stage far too late and could barely get through songs.  Still, his recordings have greatly influenced me and his death saddens me deeply.

Jonathon Richman (2 times)
A nearly unknown genius of music and comedy.  He's better known from his early career as the lead singer of the Modern Lovers.  These days, Jonathon and his drummer come at you with a perspective all their own...singing about the things that go on in your head which seem too silly to speak of.  They have the audience grinning from ear to ear at every show.

Decemberists (2 times)
Everything this band puts out is unique and interesting, but the latest release, Piqueresque, is one of the best albums of the year.  I saw them just weeks ago at the Showbox.  The concert was heavily promoted, so the place was packed.  8 members strong, they came out dressed as Gypsies.  The last song they played is in the style of a very popular kind of music in Slovakia - Cardas (pronounced "chardash").  As one of our last shows in Seattle, it was symbolic to Sofia and I.

Radiohead (2 times)
My first Radiohead show was at The Gorge.  They played against a desert and canyon backdrop, and sitting on the grass listening to the lyrics "rain down, rain down on me" watching the sunset on that clear, warm night...perfect.

Kings of Convenience
Everything coming out of Norway these days is excellent: Sondre Lerche, Royksopp, and Kings of Convenience, to name a few.  I went to this show with friends from Colorado Springs (who don't get out much).  All of their songs are light acoustic (I guess comparable to Simon & Garfunkel)...only odd because one of the "fragile" indie singers went crowd-surfing when the tempo picked up slightly.

Sondre Lerche
With his Elvis-like swagger, Sondre knows how to entertain.  From Norway, he and his band have probably the best vibe I've ever seen on-stage.  The Crocodile Cafe was half-full of Norwegians...probably the happiest and friendly people on the planet. 

Here are a few of the other artists I enjoyed live over the past few years:

Mercury Rev
Pete Yorn
Beta Band
Cafe Tacuba
Dandy Warhols
Minus the Bear
The Shins

My Mercury Rev-inspired Seattle rant

Mercury Rev played at at the Showbox last night.  I've been a fan for a few years and it was the first time I saw them live.  Sofia was tired and didn't feel like going, but a friend agreed to meet me there.  The Helio Sequence opened and they were quite good (much improved over the 2002 show I saw at Bumbershoot).

My friend flaked.  I waited until the Helio Sequence stopped playing to call him.  "Oh shit," he answered in an either drugged-out or sleepy tone.  "I fell asleep," he said.

I shouted back in a kind of slurred voice (I had already drunk two Bushmills on the rocks).  "I know you need the sleep.  I understand."

When Mercury Rev finally came on was something like observing a sunrise.  These guys are professionals and entertainers.  With a large movie screen at the back of a clean and uncluttered stage, they put together an original audio / visual experience.  Mixing images with quotes from the likes Schopenhauer, Einstein, and Henry Miller, everything played well together and I was filled with happiness and inspiration. 

And as the images and quotes flashed on the screen, something else was flashing through my mind.  Why was nobody there?  These days, the work demands of both the well-off and the not-so-well-off make it so that a Tuesday night event, even a great one, often goes practically unattended.  To get by, many have to work two jobs.  To get ahead seems to require the whole of a person's energy, mind, and soul.

But still, I have a lot going on, to say the least, and yet I was there.  It isn't just that show.  Why do bands that fill stadiums around the world play in tiny clubs in Seattle?  Take Placebo, Franz Ferdinand, Air, there are so many others.  And why does most Seattle music suck these days?  Why does everything inspired come from far away?  A perfect illustration of this problem is The Stranger's review of Mercury Rev, calling them "overrated darlings of slick UK mags."  Actually, maybe the slick mags that have it right.  And why do so few smile in the presence of such beauty?  Why do so few people move or at least bob their heads? 

In Seattle, thou shall not move or be moved.

Forget music.  Seattle is better at tearing people down than building them up.  Seattle is good at stripping away the bullshit, but when the bullshit has been stripped nothing is offered in return...and so you are left intellectually and emotionally bare.  Nature has designed us to be fueled by ideas, dreams, art, love, and emotion.  And in Seattle, all of that is suspect.  While Midwestern teenagers suffer from misplaced anger, Seattlites suffer from misplaced skepticism.  Not everything is bullshit. 

To go through life afraid that everything you do, everything you say, might be considered by someone to be bullshit is no way to go through life.  In that sense, I don't like what Seattle has done to me, and I hope the damage is reversed after I leave.

Darth Vader in the elevator

During this last week before the move, Sofia and I are renting a crappy studio apartment in downtown Seattle.  I was warned about these places.  Rented by the week or by the month, these furnished apartments are cheap.  But, I am told, you don't necessarily want to get to know your neighbors.

Last Sunday, I walked past the reception counter on my way to the elevator and noticed a large man dressed all in black, with a 8 or 9 year-old boy.  I overheard him telling the man at the counter, "You know what they say...that insults only hurt if you think that they're true."

Being an articulate, yet odd thing to say while checking into a room, I looked up and noticed that his child was barefoot and the man wearing a black cape. 

The elevator took a while, and by the time the doors had opened, they entered with me.  I boorishly attempted to mind my own business.  But the young child decided to make conversation.

"I like your shoes," he said.

"Thank you," I responded.

He then replied, "They kind of look like alligators from the front."

"Ha ha, I guess they do," I agreed. 

I was wearing a pair of funky Diesel shoes.  About these shoes...after reading Adbusters one day, I decided to fight corporate cool by black spotting the branding on my clothing.  So I took a marker to the Nike swoosh on my running shoes.  Then I thought it a little hypocritical to only go after Nike, so I turned to my Diesel shoes. 

I noticed the word "Diesel" on the tongue of each shoe. coloring over some of these letters...I turned it into..."Lies" on one foot and "sell" on the other.  I was satisfied.  Back to my story.

So the poor kid didn't have shoes on and I was desperately seeking something to compliment in turn, or something to say at all.  That's when I noticed that the large, caped man had a Darth Vader helmet tucked beneath his right arm.

"Ah, Darth Vader," I said, nooticing that he was missing all of his front teeth. 

In a self-congratulatory way, he responded, "Yes, I've been walking around the Cinerama.  I'm hoping that they will invite me to greet people on the opening day of Star Wars."

"Ah, good idea," I said with a friendly smile.

"Yes, but unfortunately it hasn't happened yet."

Funny how most of our pipe dreams never do.  No matter, it is the unintentional stuff that makese life worth talking to people in an elevator with a Darth Vader costume.