Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Music

The Dumbest Generation

Watching the excitement surrounding Jordan Peterson’s common sense advice, I wonder sometimes how we could have gotten to this point.

Part of the answer to that is buried in the science fiction and fantasy paperbacks that were released in the sixties and seventies. But it’s also in the deep tracks that came out during the same period.

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Jazz Set: Keep Calm and Appropriate

Keep Calm And Appropriate Brazilian Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Turkish Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Cuban Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Caribbean Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Spanish Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Colombian Culture

Keep Calm and Appropriate Dizzy Gillespie

Primate Fiasco at the Lake Eden Arts Festival, October 2011

Primate Fiasco does an impromptu renegade performance while another band sets up on the lakeside stage.

This is an unusually good band.

Yes, they play the same sorts of standards that your typical student jazz combos might play, but these guys go further.  They don’t just take a page out of the Real Book™ and fake it… there’s actually some thoughtful arranging going on here.  They put a new spin on the chords to Summertime to give it a sultry, swanky undercut.  They alter the tempo on the “do-wop” section of Don’t Mean A Thing.  And whatever they do, they give a Dixieland spin to it.  So tunes that you normally hear in a nostalgic hipster lounge music pastiche get this energetic independently voiced tour de force that is engaging, playful, and fresh all at once.  This music is alive.  It reminds me of going to see the Squirrel Nut Zippers in the triangle area.  No one went to see them in order to hear “old timey music.”  People went because they rocked.  This band is like that.  The sheer force of their personalities, the cohesion of their group, the cogency of their musical statement: it is simply darn good music.

The banjo is hooked up to a wah-pedal for the hypnotic Phish-like solos.  When strummed on the beat, it gives a Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five kind of feel.  The Sousaphone player sounds like he just walked off from a gig with The Dirty Dozen Brassband.  He brings a sensibility to his bass lines as good as any upright bass player’s while bending notes and seamlessly integrating Motown riffs.  The clairnet and trumpet players are great whether playing off each other, taking a solo, or punctuating the rest of the band’s melodies.  The drummer is an animal, literally… as you’ll see when they do their rendition of the Muppet Show theme.

Speaking of the Muppet Show, it’s something of a tragedy that this band was not chosen to contribute to the recent “Green Album“.  A cursory listen to that record by yours truly reveals that mainstream “rock” has yet to recover from the affected, depressed coolness of the early nineties.  Primate Fiasco repudiates all that, thankfully.  They are postmodern in the sense that they are willing and able to integrate almost any style of music into their sets… even to the point of doing Hava Nagila if it suits the moment.  But they are not cynically de-constructing previous decades’ popular music.  There is an optimism to what they do… a joyfulness as they rework Stevie Wonder and Nine Inch Nails songs into something that is infectiously accessible to a bewildering assortment of folks: kids, parents, drunk college kids, randomly assorted people that happen to be passing by….

Eight foot tall fairies rock out to Primate Fiasco as they lead the big LEAF parade

And that accessibility is a big part of what is so wonderful about these guys.

I have a stack of old jazz records… Monk at the Five Spot, Mingus at the Bohemia, Art Blakey at Birdland….  I really think it is some of the greatest music ever made.  But to share that with anybody… seriously, I can think of few things more nerdy than going up to someone and insisting that they listen to some random CD.  I occasionally try to put them on surreptitiously while people are hanging out, but if I step out they are usually replaced with something else by the time I get back.  As far as I’m concerned, something supremely important happened as jazz music developed over time… and it is almost impossible for me to convey this to anyone.  But that doesn’t matter any more if I can just get people to go anywhere near to where Primate Fiasco happens to be.  I don’t have to say anything– the Star Wars Medly will nab them every time.  And when people hang around for more, all that is good and praiseworthy of the 20th century musical idiom will wash over them.

It’s like that moment in the seventies when it was thought that jazz was dead as each great and giant packed it up or faded out….  People thought it was all over.  They really did.  For a moment, it looked as if no one would ever play that way again, but then out of nowhere, Wynton Marsalis appeared and it was never so good to be that wrong.  Primate Fiasco is like that… and they are literally taking it to the streets.  They can play anywhere and with almost anyone.  They are mobile… they use guerilla self-promotion tactics… and when they do a festival, they are liable to turn up anywhere.

Give these guys a listen, but do yourself a favor and see them live.

They are a barrel of primates.

Jeffro’s Night Out: Robyn Hitchcock live with Peter Buck

Coming home from work on Friday I serendipitously turned to the local college radio station where they were mentioning that Robyn Hitchcock would be performing nearby.  I had to go.  He was easily my favorite artist back when I was in high school.  He combined a raw intensity with his bizarre sense of humor to define “alternative rock” well before it had crystallized into a tightly scoped marketing term.  And unlike They Might Be Giants, he would always retain his coolness because I never ended up having to be tortured hearing “regular people” annoy me by reciting his lyrics in public places.

Seattle’s Johanna Kunin opened up for him.  Her songs were permeated with an old-school organ sound: generally some sort of arpeggiation in one hand with a one note harmony played with the other.  (Think “No Quarter” from Houses of the Holy and you’re pretty close.)  She’d sing about fireflies and blueberries in a borderline nigh-yodel while her cohort would play guitar, percussion, or a child’s xylophone.  For some songs she’d switch between mikes to make a home-made echo effect, and often her tunes would simply end abruptly: apparently full cadences are considered too traditional out West anymore. 

I’m highly banter conscious.  It’s funny, just the right little prefaces and introductions can completely win me over or turn me against an artist.  Somehow, I didn’t quite feel that she connected with us when she could have broken down the invisible east-west barrier and given us all some sort of mystical license to cool.  Instead she remained a slightly nervous outsider glad we had given up the basketball mania to come to the show.  (We’re Robyn Hitchcock fans… how many of us have ever really cared about sports?  Really.)  After singing a song about a ghost, she took a much needed drink of water and sighed, “nothing like bottled water to chase the spirits away.”  (?!)

I stalked the scene walking up to random people trying to find other Hitchcock fanatics and discovered my banter was pretty off as well.  One guy said he was there to see R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, and others were simply drug there by their dates.  The die hard fans were generally women that must have been ten years older than me, though I did meet a couple of guys in their forties that were following the tour around.  They said that one night Robyn played with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones and that one time he’d simply played the entire White Album for a concert.

Robyn came out alone and treated us to a solo acoustic piece.  Then the drummer came out and they did Queen Elivis together.  He could have stopped right there and I would have felt like I got my money’s worth.  I think Buck came out next, and then the bass player.  They stayed acoustic for a few songs until Buck switched to his signature “clanky” electric sound and they played a mix of older and newer material.  I was really afraid that it was going to be all new stuff, but they actually did Balloon Man, the “There’s a House Burning Down” song, and Brenda’s Iron Sledge.

I was really hoping for some serious guitar action, but it never came to pass.  Hitchcock and Buck stuck pretty much to straight-up rhythm and there was little in the way of out-of-control/improvisational rocking out.  The banter was really weird though.  Robyn wistfully spoke of the days before remote control when all we had was ectoplasm.  Later he would manage to use the word solispsic to introduce a song… and he described politics in the eighties as being a sort of a conservative glacial period.  I was disappointed when he made a couple of digs at Catholics and Karl Rove, though: I can hear that sort of thing from people with much lower IQ’s than Robyn’s on just about any talk radio station, so it seemed a bit pointless.  No one talks about ectoplasm, though, so I’d rather have heard more about that.

I did manage to pick up another one for the “things that make me feel stupid file.”  Waiting in line for the autographs, I discovered that Buck was a pretty nice guy.  The bass player, Scott MacCaughey, was extremely personable and talked enthusiastically about which songs from “Eye” they were thinking of playing.  But when I got to Robyn, he asks me “Who’s it for?” as I approached him with my CD’s.  “Uh… me,”  I said, not understanding the question and feeling vaguely selfish for not getting the signature dedicated to some other Robyn Hitchcock fan instead.  There it was… my moment with a childhood hero and I don’t even have the sense to tell him my name so that he could give me a proper autograph.  This is of course going on while I’m frantically trying to rip off the stickers on the CD case that are impossible to remove without specialized tools.

I felt very silly and not very clever and on the drive home I tried to think of something obliquely appropriate for a Robyn Hitchcock fan to do after a show like that, but never really came up with anything.

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Update 3/28/07: Pictures from the concert are available here.  I think I even saw the guy taking the pictures.  I know I saw his wife walking by with the playlist… lucky girl.  Too quick for me!

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Update 3/29/07: You, too, can hear the sounds of Johanna Kunin!  This recording of “Blueberry” really isn’t that bad.  It has a fresh sound that’s fairly unique and is actually kind of fun.

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Update 3/29/07: I just feel it to be my civic duty to confirm that Peter Buck did indeed look like somebody had just told him his cat had been sucked into an irony vortex.

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Update 4/10/2007: You can hear a live studio recording of Robyn Hitchcock playing his new song “Adventure Rocket Ship” along with a pretty good interview here from WNYC.  It’s neat hearing Robyn explain how he ended up touring with most of R.E.M. and also why he wrote the songs on his latest album the way that he did.

Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile: “Authenticity” is Highly Overrated

I recently got to see Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile in concert.  I have to say this was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen: the improvisational freedom of jazz… combined with the technical range and precision of classical… in the context of Appalachian style and tradition?!  Not exactly three things you’d think would go together.

It’s really quite disarming to actually see what Edgar Myers is doing… and how effortless he makes it look.  I’d heard recordings of this sort of thing before, but they really don’t compare.  I was about 15 rows back and Meyer’s bass was pointed right at me.  There’s just something about the sound that CD’s don’t capture.  And between songs you get to hear all of the banter– it just draws you in and makes you feel like they are performing just for you. 

Thile was so jittery and awkward.  He’s probably one of the greatest musicians in the world and yet he comes off as self-conscious and insecure.  At one point he announced a song and said it was written by “two really famous musicians: Edgar Myer and and Mark O’Connor.”  He emphasized how famous these guys were a couple of times while Meyer just quietly stood back and waited.  “You’re famous, too Chris,” he interjected.

Meyer can say more with a look than these prima-donna types like Bela Fleck and Thile can say in 15 minutes. 

Anyways, I remember Teri Gross interviewing some guy from Radio Head talking about how he’d get so bored at their concerts.  He’d be bored with a set of songs by the time they recorded them… but after they recorded, they needed to promote the album with a tour.  He’d just stand up there and be… totally bored and not into it.

Teri and this Alternative Rock Star had to bask on the sheer coolness of this point for a bit: wow… it’s just so authentic.  What a rip off!  Come on… you’re an entertainer.  Putting on shows is what you do!  And this is the best you can do for your adoring fans?!  I bet it’d stink to be married to this guy.  “Yes dear… I neglected to buy you flowers this Valentines day because I’m simply not particularly inspired by your ravishing good looks at the moment.”  Riiiiight.

But that’s the thing about Meyer and Thile.  They seem to be completely into what they’re doing.  There’s just no doubt in my mind that they are playing exactly the kind of music that they want to play… and playing it the way to want to with the people they want.  It’s great.  They don’t have to make some sort of statement by “being authentic.” 

Something tells me that if you’re putting a lot of effort into “being authentic” then maybe you really aren’t.  But I am going to the show to have an experience.  Maybe Meyer and Thile have cooked up some of the banter before hand.  Maybe they really didn’t want to do the Bach “cover” songs.  If so, then they sure fooled me.  I don’t care either way.

If I take the trouble to go to a concert, then I want to feel like I’m witnessing history.  I want to feel like I’m part of a unique moment in time… and that somehow… it actually is for me.  Meyer and Thile are the only musicians that I can remember ever actually pulling this off so completely.  They are making history… but in an unprecedentedly intimate way.

 Update 3/29/2007: Here’s a blog entry by someone else that was at this concert– and they even have full text of the “you’re famous” banter I mentioned above.