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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Left-Wing Conservative: Keeping "God" Out of Politics!

  "Socrates thought and so do I that the wisest theory about the gods is no theory at all”- Michel de Montaigne

Like Montaigne, I’m against theology.

Like Montaigne, I am not an atheist.  I am a practicing member of an organized religion, which gives me profound meaning and satisfaction.  But this is as much as you will hear about it from me in this blog.

Unfortunately, we continue to hear about it in our politics.

Public Issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception are debated and discussed based on which side God's opinion falls, based on various religious texts.

Most religious texts spend way more time talking about helping the poor and downtrodden and bringing justice to the oppressed that whether someone's Tab A goes into someone else's Slot B. However, we don't hear so much about Whomever's view on these issues.

Anyway, here are a few assumptions and thoughts I bring to this perspective:

1. I don't necessarily think everything happens for a "reason", but I do think ultimately everything is connected to everything else and in some way affects and influences everything else.

2. I think we all have certain powerful subjective experiences where we understand # 1 intuitively; these are variously called flow, being in "the zone", spiritual, or religious experiences.

3. These experiences have a neuronal correlate, in that the part of our brain that defines the boundaries of our body becomes inactive, or less active, during our experience of same.

4. Some practices and behaviors can assist us in creating these experiences - yoga, prayer, chanting, great art, service to others, sex, alcohol, drugs, mindfulness -based meditation, a really good conversation, love, etc.

5. The experiences in #2 tend to increase our wellbeing, make us more compassionate, more open to new experiences, and more accepting of our own, and others, emotions and thoughts, though in some cases - (like alcohol and drugs... and sometimes love of the unrequited type)- the side effects counteract this positive effect.

6. I think religions start as an attempt to create the experiences in #2, and then recreate them via rituals and communal experience. Eventually some people assign themselves as “clergy”.  And they write some stuff down on how to do the rituals correctly, how to mentally prepare to do them, and some ideas about why, even if #2 experiences are not happening, you should keep doing them anyway.

7. An organization soon forms which is always at risk of becoming more about perpetuating itself, the clergy, and the dogmas, to the exclusion of creating the experiences in #2, which, of course, results in less #5.

8.  If practicing a religion (note I said practice, not belief) or any other of the practices in #4 results in more #2 experiences, then it’s (most of the time) a good thing.

9. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is only “one way” to interpret any text, particularly religious texts. This is because interpretations themselves are based on how we perceive, remember, understand, and feel our own subjective experience. And that is, by definition, different for everyone. There are as many interpretations as there are people.

10. But when we have a collection of people who somewhat agree on interpretation, then we have a religion, or, more abstractly, a “theology”. So “theologies” are really just different aggregates of interpretations.

11. I think that “theology” is largely competitive philosophical defensiveness, developed to either a) convince someone of your position or b) defend your own position, by showing its similarity to that of your attacker.

12. Metaphor is the best we can do to offer an image of our own experience to another, which we can do via speech and art, or by our own actions as example.  Metaphor is ultimately the child of our embodied experience, not our rationalism or intellect.

13. For me, religion is about making a commitment to practicing certain actions and rituals, developing certain subjective experiences, and loyalty to a community, and not the promulgation of, or defense of, a certain dogma or creed.

14. So in politics, and in life in general,  think our  interpretive frameworks change not through intellectual debate and discussion, but through actual lived experience (e.g. someone’s kid comes out of the closet, and suddenly a gay person is a real human being that they care about, and their position changes).

Therefore, In lieu of competing interpretations of religious texts, maybe we should, at taxpayer expense, get a bunch of people together who are on different sides of these issues, and have them spend the day together -- have a few meals, a few drinks, do a few “icebreakers”, exchange pictures of their family and friends, and see where they end up at the end of the day.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think the result would be greater mutual acceptance.

And on the religious stuff, express your metaphors of your own #2 experiences poetically and with passion. Exemplify those metaphors through your actions.

Otherwise, keep your theology to yourself.



This is an expanded version of my earlier blog "Against Theology"

Monday, March 25, 2013

Best Of March 2013

The posts have been few and far between I readily admit.  Funny how life has a way of overwhelming us at times.  Don't read too much into that either.  As John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans."  Real "life" need not be boring and unrewarding however.  Some of us might think a Sunday trip to Michael's for some crafts is the definition of Hell on Earth.  I don't remember ever entering one of those stores and boy was it enlightening.  First, the place is jam packed with both product and people.  It's a crack haven for Christmas sweater wearing single aunts wanting to wrap their hands around the latest in scrap booking accessories and balls of yarn.  The other demographic is clueless parents out to help their children nail the school science project.   Some are mothers buying product for the project THEY envision.  If their child has any input it is remarkable.  "Here is how we are going to do it...  if you want my help, follow my direction" parenting.

The other half of the shoppers are dads, like me, who let their child channel their inner Fellini.  Before you know it your shopping cart is filled with rolls of felt, styrofoam spheres, faux grass, glue, paint, midgets, clowns and the corpse of Marcello Mastroianni.  Funny, you never end up bringing home Anika Ekberg do you?

Throw the store at them in an effort to prevent them how to make the darn thing.  If for only a few hours.  It is beautiful really.  Teach them to be creative and concise after spending needless money on crap.  Everyone wins!  Left brain meets commerce.

Where was I?  Oh, yeah.  That shits take time.  And energy.  And time.  Before you know it the endless hours you thought you had on a Sunday are gone.  It's 60 Minutes time already?  Throw March Madness into the mix and how does anyone get anything done this weekend?

The weeks are no better,  or worse, or whatever.  It's life.  It's a beautiful mess.  What are we gonna eat for dinner?  When is her Science quiz?  If held up at work how is she getting home from school?  Anyone let the dog out today?  What color we painting the living room?  Is it gonna snow again?  On March freaking 25th?  Why do we live in the Northeast again?

Oh, right the schools.  And the corruption.  No, stop.  It's all good stuff.  The mundane activities are setting the plan in motion.  Educate the children and teach them the process.  Play a game of horse in the backyard.  Have her do some spring cleaning and rearrange her dresser drawers.  That's good stuff indeed.  Then maybe next week we go after what keeps us hanging around NYC.  The art.  The culture.  The food.  The greatest city on Earth.  Or, at least the greatest one we know.  Lots of great music too.  The spring concert season will be heating up in the coming weeks.  Keep checking GTS on FB for concerts, videos, and live show updates.  We always love to meet old friends, and new, on concert excursion evenings.  Chappo in Brooklyn 3.30.13 looks to be the next stop.  Join us?  In the meantime March was/is another stellar month for new tracks.  Take a listen, won't you?

Parquet Courts "Stoned and Starving"  This goes back to the earlier discussion.   What is for dinner tonight?  It was a good one!  Grilled some filets and the Mrs rocked some seasoned potato crisps.  That was several hours ago.  Now I am feeling like the protagonist in this track by Brooklyn punk act Parquet Courts.  Good humor and a great beat.  I have never been much of a punk aficionado, but I know what I likes.  And I likes this one a lot.  * this column does not advocate walking through NYC stoned and starving.  there are PLENTY of places to get a bite.*

Ty Segall "Thank God For the Sinners"  California twenty something Ty Segall released like 60 LP's last year.  Ok, it was only 3.  Only 3??!!!  I'm lucky if I come up with 3 good ideas in a year.  And by ideas I mean 3 worthy things to steal.  This track is downright awesome.  Gritty, guitar rock in the best kind of way.  Why do I get the feeling Segall just wrote a song while I wrote this paragraph?

Palma Violets "Best of Friends"  We head over the pond for some more punk/garage/psych-grunge rock.  Dueling frontmen Sam Fryer and Alexander "Chilli" Jesson serve up a delicious mix of hard driving guitar and blistering drum lines.  They blend that with aggressive and attention grabbing vocals.  This is an ear opening single.  This is an act worth learning more about.  Note, we understand this is a 2012 track, but don't care.  It is new to this column.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down "We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)  I know, I know.  Sounds super pretentious right?  Both the band name and title!!  We do know Thao Nguyen is the voice behind the song and front women behind this group of California folk rockers.  Valerie Bolden?  That is another story.  There is some blues picking that steer this tune.  But it is the harmonies and airy flow that keep the song in your head for hours.

Alt-J "Tessellate"  As I write this Leeds University quartet is playing a jam packed Terminal 5.  They won the Mercury Prize in 2012 for their debut LP.  We may be late to the party again but...  better late than never.   Their other singles might be more popular and successful in the states (see "Breezeblocks"  and "Matilda".)  I say start here.

Cold War Kids "Miracle Mile"  I have never seen Grey's Anatomy, so I could not tell you the difference between McDreamy or McSteamy.  I do happen to know the music director of the hit ABC show is pretty darn good.  Many alt artists have gotten commercial success due in large part to their inclusion on a montage scene here or opening title sequence there.  So I am told.  It comes as no surprise as I searched for the latest single by California's Cold War Kids, a clip from the tv show was one of the first Google results.  That is a long, pointless tangent.  Long story short, the band and said single, are super cool.

Leagues "Spotlight"   Nashville based leagues released their debut record, You Belong Here, in January.  This is the single.  Get to know it all.

Phosphorescent "Song for Zula"  Would you believe Phosphorescent is an alias for Alabama born and Brooklyn based singer/songwriter/mood setter Matthew Houck?  Of course you would.  You really gonna look up any info on him to challenge me?  If I said he  was a Buddhist pilgrim who writes songs in Gaza and raised sheep in Portugal would you buy in?  You should sit back and chill to this lovely little piece that reminds you of 90s emo (see The Verve for instance) and has a lyric that follows Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

Foals "My Number"  Was that some 80s synth you were asking for?  The kind Manchester, England made famous?  These cats from Oxford have been making music for several years.  High energy dance stuff that would make the Human League smile.  Don't, don't you want me?  To give you more great tracks??

Last one...

Shout Out Louds "Walking in Your Footsteps"  No secret that this blog has championed Swedish pop. Hell we endorse Swedish fish too.  Lykke Li, Miike Snow, and The Sounds are but a few of the Swedish acts we boogie down to.  Add veteran pop act Shout Out Louds to the mix.  Their latest record (and 5th total!) Optika, came out in late February.  Let me do my best Stephon from Saturday Night Live...  this song has everything, flute, Robert Fripp-esque guitar fills, that thing when an effeminate man sings quietly with a Swedish girl, synths, beats, smiles and a human wrist watch.  That's that thing where a midget wraps himself around your hand and yells the time at you.  Ok, it's late and I am clearly losing focus.

Keep on living the dream all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Left-Wing Conservative: Courting The Supremes On Gay Marriage

This coming week the Supreme Court finally takes up same-sex marriage in two
separate cases.

The first case comes out of California. California's Supreme Court ruled
that forbidding same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. A campaign to
reverse this decision resulted in putting the issue to a vote by public
referendum, called Proposition 8. Proposition 8 was passed by California
voters, and same-sex marriage was banned.

However, in the interim between the California Supreme Court decision and
Prop 8, thousands of gay and lesbian couples legally got married. The
petitioners are asking the court to recognize a right to same-sex marriage,
and declare that any law limiting same is unconstitutional.

The second case involves the federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"),
passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996.
This law was passed after Hawai'i legalized same-sex marriage, and other
states panicked that this would force them to accept same-sex marriages in
their own state, or that the federal government would recognize same-sex
marriages. The law states that the US government defines marriage as "one
man and one woman". It also says that a state does not have to recognize a
same-sex marriage from another state.

The part of the DOMA that is being challenged is the first part.  Currently,
the federal government can refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage from a
particular state, and thereby deny the spousal benefits that otherwise are
available under Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal employee and
military pensions, veterans benefits, and income tax filing.

These two cases really put my dueling left-wing conservative hemispheres to
the test.

The conservative hemisphere places a primary value on customs, traditions,
habits, and relationships --  the result of the experiences of many prior
generations. It is, in its way, scientific because it assumes that people
are capable of learning over time, and learn best within actual day-to-day
living. As a result, these customs, traditions and habits reflect certain
timeless values: prudence, loyalty, honor, duty and obligation to others,
compassion, and the dignity of work.

The conservative perspective is also pluralistic, with its emphasis on
families and communities, voluntary clubs and associations, ethnic pride,
and the diversity of living arrangements and values (every culture needs
rebels, bohemians and a "wrong side of the tracks").  In short, much respect
given to what came before, and a commitment to hold in trust those things
that are worth keeping around. Conservatism also is skeptical about
innovation, and expects change to arise based on facts and experience, not
revolutionary vanguards.

Fortunately, the DOMA case is a no-brainer from a
conservative standpoint.

Marriage has existed a foundation of society for thousands of years Since
the founding of the United States, marriage has been a creature of state
law, not federal law. It was up to each state to define what is marriage and
what isn't, including the conditions for divorce, child custody, alimony,
and other details of creation and dissolution of marriage. My conservative
view is that is an infringement on the state's traditional powers to
regulate health, morals, and public welfare for the Federal Government to
vary federal benefits to a particular state's citizens based on how that
state chooses to define marriage.

If Hawai'i wants to call same-sex marriage a "marriage", then the feds
should accept it. If Mississippi wants to limit it to opposite-sex couples,
the feds should accept that too. Let each state's democratic processes work
out what its citizens want, and the Feds should stay out of it.

The Proposition 8 case, however, puts the "left-wing" side of my brain into
overdrive. My left-wing hemisphere is obsessed with equality.

By equality, I mean the idea that all people are created equal -- just like
it says in the Declaration of Independence.  Simply by being human we have a
worth, a dignity, and a value that cannot be quantified (even in our great
age of putting a numerical value on everything).

But the left-wing perspective builds on this idea of equality. It holds that
the differences in the conditions of our lives resulting from our race,
religion, wealth, health and social status can become so extreme that they
become unjust and, therefore, they demand remedy.

Where the democratic process has not provided a remedy, Americans have
looked to the Supreme Court.

From the left-wing perspective, recognizing "new" constitutional rights has
little to do with a "correct reading" of the constitution. The Founders
(Hamilton, Jay, Adams, Jefferson, etc.) were enlightened, intelligent, and
public spirited men, but they were also politicians. In creating the
Constitution, they were practical leaders trying to negotiate the terms of a
new form of government.

Thus, the  Constitution was a political bargain among states. Most of the
bargaining was geared toward getting states that supported slavery to sign

That's why each state gets two senators, even though this gives states with
less than 10% of the population huge sway over federal policy. Its why even
though they couldn't vote, blacks were counted at "three-fifths" of a person
so slave states could have greater representation in the House of
Representatives. Its why the constitution expressly forbade Congress to
outlaw slavery in the states where it already existed. And finally, in what
is perhaps the greatest irony, the Bill of Rights was added to the
Constitution (note that as originally written, the Bill of Rights only
applied to the federal government -- states could still regulate religion,
speech and due process procedures) as a concession to the slave states who
feared the federal government would interfere with their internal policy and
try to force them to give up slavery.

Not quite a sacred text handed down from a mountaintop.

And discussion about the "Founder's intent" is equally specious.

What "Founder"?  Alexander Hamilton, author of most of The Federalist
Papers, originally proposed turning the states into federal administrative
districts with a governor appointed by the president. On the other hand,
Jefferson was opposed to "checks and balances" and proposed that each branch
of the government should be able to come up with its own interpretation of
the constitution, and was not bound to listen to any of the others.

And what "intent"? The Federalist Papers themselves are not a recording of
the deliberations of a sacred conclave. Rather, they are a collection of
editorials published in New York and Philadelphia newspapers to sell the
public on the new proposed constitution. To rely on these to guide us today
would be as if people 250 years from now were being guided by New York Times
op-eds by David Brooks and EJ Dionne!

So, the left-wing perspective suggests we stop the charade that the Supreme
Court is anything other than another political branch of the government.
It's only difference is its  narrower scope of authority, and a different
decision making process, compared to the elected branches of government. The
Supreme Court is not a priesthood interpreting sacred text, but a political
branch for providing a remedy where equality demands justice.

Isn't life hard enough? Won't we all face tragedy, illness, death, career
reversals, and loneliness? Don't we all struggle to make sense of life? And
don't we all seek out relationships with other people to get us through all
of this?

Is it just that citizens are denied forming nurturing,
sustaining relationships, simply because others disagree with their lifestyle? 

Is it just that gays and lesbians are denied tangible benefits,
recognized as essential to marriage and families, simply based on who they

Whether you are left-wing or conservative, it is time to recognize a right
to same-sex marriage, and it has nothing to do with having good arguments in
favor of it.

Rather, it's because, whether you are left-wing or conservative, there is no
compelling argument against it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Are We Becoming Immune To Satire?

A friend of mine from high school recently posted on Facebook a photo of a product she saw at the supermarket-- flavored apples.

These were not candy apples. They were not caramel apples. They were not even those grotesque apples covered with so much stuff they look like they were rolled on the floor of a movie theater.

These flavored apples were pre-packaged sliced Granny Smith apples with grape, orange, or fruit punch flavoring added, apparently geared toward children (or, more accurately, parents agonizing over how to get their kids to eat more fresh fruit). One of her Facebook friends satirically and hilariously commented, "Do they come in apple flavor?"

This got me to thinking whether we are developing a cultural immunity to satire.

I love satire. I have learned more about the world from The Onion than The New York Times.

In its broadest definition, satire is exaggerating something in order to comment on its evil, injustice, absurdity, shallowness, or other disdained quality.

But I think satire as a form presumes that there is a gap in time between the present moment to be satirized and the satirical rendition of that moment. Satire stings like a bee-- first the sharp, itchy pain. Then, the surprise and shock of having been stung. Then, that moment of confusion settling into recognition. Finally, the dull ache that stays with us for several days.

However, the life cycle of ideas in general, and satire in particular, seems to be shorter and shorter.

Images and ideas quickly "go viral". They are exchanged, commented and elaborated upon, and quickly become part of the present moment's conversation.  This accelerated digestion narrows the time lag between the satirical comment and the present moment, and the satire is defused of its sting. 

Further, its not just that satire can't keep up with the world. Rather, the world absorbs the satire and makes it its own so quickly that by the time a satirical piece is digested it has so shaped public consciousness, and influenced it, that it becomes stale and part of the new normal.  We barely feel the sting going in.

How many times has an article from The Onion been reported as real news? How many people can't tell the difference between Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly? How many people realized that Tina Fey was quoting Sarah Palin word for word?

We have a hard time telling the difference. Not sure how we can keep up.

I'll keep a lookout for the apple-flavored apples.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Django Django, MHOW 3.7.13

Since getting back into the live music scene (3-4 years ago) a few things have become crystal clear.  1)  Younger crowds are far more polite and well behaved than baby boomers and older hipsters (ya know, folks like me.)  Recently veteran Grateful Dead rocker Bob Weir reached his threshold and walked off stage due to incessant chatter in the crowd.   If you get a hippie worked up enough to walk off, well then, you really suck.  The Eels show at Webster Hall last week was also an older crowd.  And those folks would not shut up!  Listen, if you want to get your drink on, go for it.  Friday and Saturday night shows are the most dangerous.  Many of these people are out to "have a good time."  The music is secondary.  The fans of the artist really suffer due to what is fast becoming a majority.   In Williamsburg and the East Village there are probably about a thousand watering holes.  Must you get loaded at MY concert??

Last night in the intimate Music Hall of Williamsburg, British rockers Django Django played the second of their 2 night sold out stay.  They are supporting their eponymously titled debut album.  Two things:  First, the crowd was young, excited, and respectful.  Second, it was a Thursday night in Brooklyn.  Hence, those in attendance were all about the band and the music.  Those ingredients make for a nice foundation.   Note, it was adorable hearing some college kids comment how "cool it was they were seeing them live" and "that we should get matching outfits like the band."  Cute kids were giddy over their new idols.  When you get a group of people engaged from the beginning it serves as a huge boost.

We were urged to make this show by some friends of ours.  We knew the band.  Any fan of alt rock has heard their hit "Default."  They bought tickets and worst case we hang with good friends we rarely  spend time with.   Naturally they both cancelled.  We could have easily done the same.  

So very glad we stuck to the plan.  We would have missed out on a fabulous dinner.  Those who love red meat, German beers, wine, ambience, great service and are in the Williamsburg area please, please go to St Anselm- NYT review here.  A better steak dinner this reviewer has not eaten in a long, long time.  The Mrs proudly exclaimed it was the best she had ever eaten.  

We would have missed out on shoe shopping too.  Shoe Market on N 6th street is just blocks from Music Hall of Williamsburg.  Since the demise of Simple shoes it has been a struggle to find a suitable replacement.  Men don't shop for shoes do they?  College was the last time I can remember trying shoes on.  Lo and behold last night I did just that.  More shocking was two pairs were purchased!!  Good luck Camper  and Onitsuka Tiger!!  You LITERALLY have big shoes to fill.

The Mrs could not leave the store without some sort of red wedge.   Big step for her buying warm weather shoes in the middle of a snow storm.  Perhaps it was some sort of wishful thinking.  If these shoes are purchased warm weather will surely follow.  Silly girl.  When it is snowing in April this event  will surely be the reason why.

Our economic stimulus plan was well into action and then finally, the main event.  We were playing with house money now.  Steaks?  Check.  Shoes?  Check.  Songs??  Bring it.

Another lesson live music has taught recently is expect little from an artists "big" hit.  For example, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" was ok, at best.   Kimbra was even there to sing her part!  Walk the Moon's runaway smash "Anna Sun" was kind of a bore.  Last night, near the end of an otherwise fantastic set, "Default" was rushed, erratic and anti-climatic.  It is a "been there, done that" sort of thing.  Django Django (Vincent Neff-guitar/vocals, Jimmy Dixon-bass, David Maclean-drums, and Tommy Grace-synths) seemed slightly bored with it too.  They did their best to alter the beat and mix things up with it.  That was the problem.  The song has such a memorable hook and produced feel anything else seems contrived.  The whole damn song has been branded in my brain.  Play it as it is recorded and let the chips fall where they may.  If/when Django Django tours in 10 years they can play with this signature song and maybe joke about "how it started it all."

The good news is "Default" was towards the end.  By that time Django Django had won over the crowd.  This is NOT a synth act.  This is NOT a one hit wonder.  Led by Neff and Dixon's playful harmonies, penchant for odd ball instruments, and ear for melody, these guys can play.

Like their record, the show opened with "Introduction."  It serves as a kind of warm-up and set the tone wonderfully.  It has a simple bass line.  It has a tribal drum beat.  There are the requisite beeps and boops.  Then come the vocals.  They sweep you up a bit.  They put you in a trance.  They get you ready for the highlight.  "Hail Bop" is an absolute show stopper.  Ever have one of those moments when you cannot get a song out of your head?  Then you go see the band responsible and they go ahead and destroy it???  Yeah, that's me last night.  It helped that I was two rows back.  The light show was pretty darn special too.  

But everything being equal the opening track should capture your attention.  "Intro/Hail Bop" is such a beginning.  Hell, we were already playing with house money, remember?  And then they go and bring this smile inducing reminder of all things groovy???  Well played Django, Django.  Unchained you are indeed!!

The rest of the set had a nice energy.  The boys had an aw-shucks way about them.  Their accents made it impossible to understand the limited chatter between songs.  But their eye contact and overall demeanor were unmistakable.  These kids loved performing to a crowd eager to hear/adore them.  While they are synth heavy, to say they are reliant on them is under stating things.  The live drum kit and strong bass liven things up.  Neff's guitar provides a distinct sound and is a not so subtle reminder that this is a rock band.  And you sir, are at a rock show.

On a lost, snowy Thursday evening we ventured out.  When the evening ended (back safely in NJ before midnight) we were beyond thrilled with the outcome.  

It is the beauty of live music.  At 6pm as the uptown traffic looked scary and the snow was falling there was little, if any expectations.  "Boy the couch would be good right about now" I whispered to myself.

Today I am reminded that an escape from the mundane is just around the corner.  Counting the days til I search for it again.

Django Django, MHOW 3.7.13

Vincent Neff, ring leader 

Hands were raised and feet were stomped.  This was an up tempo set.  My second concert this week with band members wearing "uniforms."

Great light show and effects added to the proceedings.  It was not ornate and probably pretty cost effective.  But it was super cool in its simplicity.
Minnesota band Night Moves were the openers and they deserve more than this caption.  Good rock act with heavy bass lines and a singer with an amazing voice.  Go here please:  Night Moves official site

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Eels, Webster Hall, NYC 3.1.13 (photos by Audra May)

Back in the late 90s, when MTV2 used to play videos only, the Mark Oliver Everett creation known as eels had a few "hits" in heavy rotation.  His/their first single "Novocaine For the Soul", had the right amount of angst and ethos.  It was anti-grunge musically, but shared the same melancholy spirit.  It was hopeful and downright cynical all at once.  The video, shot by director Mark Romanek, was as captivating and beautiful as the song.  College radio loved the track and, for a moment, it appeared Everett, aka, E, was on his way.

Then things took a dark turn.   His sister Elizabeth (after suffering from depression for years) committed suicide.  His mother died of cancer shortly thereafter.  During and after the turmoil he began to cope.  He put pen to paper and wrote his second album, Electro Shock Blues.  The album gave an unblinking account of the dark moments surrounding his beautiful mind.  And the mind is beautiful.  E's father is noted physicist Hugh Everett III.  All Hugh did was originated the "many worlds interpretation of quantum theory."  His work at Princeton was first dismissed as irrelevant and scientifically unsound.   Years later those same theories were embraced and treated as revolutionary.  E's stories have been documented both in print (his autobiography Things The Grandchildren Should Know) and on screen (the brilliant BBC documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives.)  Should you be disinterested in the music of E, those two works are captivating in their own right.  For the amount of heartbreak, tragedy, and abject melancholy that has defined E's life, he somehow prospers.  Electro Shop Blues, while dark in spots, also had its moments of joy.  Last Stop, This Town is downright whimsical and funny.  The shit was getting real up in here.  E took it all in stride and saw hope in an otherwise bleak life.  The record was enough to make me a lifelong fan.

It was around that time I first saw Eels live.  Then I saw him/them again.  Then again.  And again...

Each tour has its own vibe.  Will he cover Missy Elliot this time?  "Get Ur Freak On"  Will he tour with strings and play in his pajamas?  "Trouble With Dreams"  Will he play a song(s) from Shrek?  His fingerprints are all over that series:  here "My Beloved Monster" Shrek scene or  here "Losing Streak" from Shrek or here "I Need Some Sleep"  

Will he rock your socks off???  That answer is always an emphatic yes.  Sometimes it's gospel: "Looking Up."  Sometimes it's a bluesy and vampire themed: "Fresh Blood."   It's always original.  It's always exciting.  E is a God of Alt Rock and we should all be worshipping.

In a packed Webster Hall last Friday night church was in session.  And although many in attendance were more concerned about their own conversations and, more specifically their drinks, the smart ones in the crowd were treated to another killer performance.

E leaned heavily on his cheery 10th record, not ironically titled Wonderful, Glorious, during the nearly two hour show.   The new material has plenty to offer.  "On the Ropes" is a charming tale of hope.  "Peach Blossom"  is a straight forward rock tune.  Then E threw in his usual curveballs.  Take the Fleetwood Mac cover "Oh Well".  This ain't your Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac mind you.  This is blues rock with ample cowbell.  This tour has E bringing the guitar.  The Chet, now with E for 10 years, and P Boo helped make this song a highlight.   Shortly after this hard rocking tune E and The Chet renewed their "vows" to the tune of Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings."  

In other words, it was a typical eels show.  Expect the unexpected.  Ventriloquists might open the show.  Clowns might come on stage before the show (and certainly during the encore!.) E will likely mention the wrong City during his often acerbic and comical song breaks.  He may also yell at hecklers, albeit mostly with tongue in cheek.  He will hug his band mates.  He will embrace his audience.  Kris Kristopherson wrote something years ago that describes E quite nicely.  "He is partly truth, partly fiction, a walking contradiction."

Rock star as anti-rock star.  An introvert in an extrovert world.  A pessimist with an optimistic point of view.  

Mark/E/eels always leave you wanting more.  Friday night was no exception.  The alt world and blogosphere might bow down to new releases from 90s staples My Bloody Valentine, Garbage, Green Day, Dinosaur Jr and the like.  For my money eels is the best thing to come out of the 90s.  All other talk is sacrilege. 

Back in 2011 I posted about an eels show in Williamsburg.  For years I was (and still am) the butt of many jokes regarding my affinity for E and his band.  You either dig it or you don't.  Turns out a certain photographer from Connecticut digs it.  Audra May commented on the post and we have been virtual friends ever since.  Friday night we finally got to meet.  Much like E's mash up of Mr E's Beautiful's Blues and My Beloved Monster we decided to use my words and her impeccable pictures.  For fans of music and photography please do yourself a favor and fan her on Facebook here or subscribe to her blog here.   Just do both already.  There will be pictures of cats!!  And isn't that what the interweb is all about??  Thank you Audra for these pics.  They make the ones I took look like, well, beloved monsters.  

Mark Oliver Everett.  A Man Called E.

Not sure I remember an eels show where the band was not in uniform.  Friday night was no exception.  Adidas  track suits and sneakers thank you very much.  Oh, and shades.

Honest Al on bass.

The Chet (background) getting a kick out of E.

The Chet and E renew their vows.  "Do you take this man to be your lead vocalist?"

"I do"

Go Knuckles!

E joked about being in the Big Easy, and Big Apples, and WIndy City...

But during the encore it was clear he knew where he was.
New York Fu*kin City!!!

Great set up.  Big Al on bass surrounded by 2 guitars.  Knuckles and E up front.

Creepy, creepy clown at the encore.  House lights were up and E came out for a few more.

Already looking forward to the next tour.  Thanks guys.
Setlist from DC show which was real similar.

Review of Eels 2011 Brooklyn show by GTS

Review of Eels 2011 Brooklyn Show by Audra May

How far we have come!  Rock on, spread the word, and thanks as always for your support.