Saturday, September 29, 2012

Going to Town

There's a risk a beloved band can run when it reunites after many years apart. Is the magic still there? Is the tour a soulless cash-grab that will tarnish fans' great memories? More than a decade after last playing together, can the band still bring that special something to the table?

My fears for the Afghan Whigs reunion were nonexistent because I've seen band mastermind Greg Dulli several times since the Whigs split in '01, coming through fairly regularly with the Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins and solo. But given his reticence to revisit his past (until recently, at least), I did wonder whether he'd be going through the motions or if he'd bring the fire that he's brought to his other endeavors.

When I arrived at Boston's House of Blues Wednesday, it appeared that others may have had similar concerns because the venue was nearly empty for opening act School of Seven Bells, who soldiered on and played an excellent set of danceable synth-pop. I realized there was plenty of room up front on the floor, so I walked right up to the right of the stage where the great Brad Searles was encamped. Fortunately, the club filled up as it came closer to the headlining set.


I'd seen the Whigs play a few times on late night talk shows in recent months, so I knew Dulli had shed some pounds, but it was still striking to see him up close. He had gotten kinda pudgy in the last several years, so it was impressive to see him in fighting shape again. The Whigs were a six-piece on this night, Dulli and fellow original band members John Curley (bassist, who himself has trimmed down quite a bit) and Rick McCollum, along with Twilight Singers members Dave Rosser (guitar) and Cully Symington (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson (cello, keyboards), who accompanied Dulli on his solo tour a few years back. The band has played several festival shows and just started a North American tour, and it sounded tight and thunderous. Curley broke out the fuzz bass funk for a few numbers, and McCollum delivered his slide-heavy solos with aplomb; occasionally Rosser joined in for dual-slide solos, which was pretty awesome.

Dulli was all business on this night, seldom engaging in the banter he usually does. I'd attribute part of that to playing in a club like HOB, where there's a hard 11 p.m. set ending time. As a result, the band didn't jam as much as it did back in the day, but there were still the snippets and covers the Whigs are known for. Launching into "Crime Scene, Part One" to open the show, Dulli had the crowd going from the first note.

Most of the focus was on the band's classic Gentlemen album (five songs, including a run of "What Jail is Like," "Fountain and Fairfax," "When We Two Parted" and "Gentlemen"), but also 1996's underrated Black Love, a cinematic opus from which six songs were played. The Whigs deftly jumped to and from the various stylistic eras of its career, from the angsty alt-rock rage of "I'm Her Slave" and "Miles Iz Ded" to the dark mobster stylings of "My Enemy" to the jubilant soul-infused "Crazy" and "66" (from the band's last album 1965). And the one guy to my right who kept yelling "RETAAAHHHHDDED!!!" got his wish, as the Whigs played that early song from their Up In It album. The band also played its two new releases, covers of Marie "Queenie" Lyons' "See and Don't See" and Frank Ocean's "Lovecrimes," which featured Dulli at the keyboard, where he segued into Andy Williams' "Moon River" in honor of the singer's death that day.

Dulli loves sneaking in lines from other artists and tonight was no exception, with a line from Prince's "Little Red Corvette" inserted into "66," the Supremes' "I Hear a Symphony" at the end of "Bulletproof" and even KISS' "I Was Made for Lovin' You" dropped into one song. But the best one came during the encore, which was a Black Love trilogy with "Bulletproof," "Summer's Kiss" and "Faded," a majestic song that rolled into the end of Prince's "Purple Rain," complete with the high-pitched "woo-oo-oo-oooh"s. Just a transcendent way to end a fantastic show.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Golden Age

It came and went pretty quickly, but I sort of celebrated my 45th birthday last Friday. It wasn't like I was dreading it or anything. I just happened to be in Tampa for work and had no time to really contemplate it until later in the day when we were done at the convention center. After getting in a run on the hotel treadmill, I met up with a couple co-workers at an outdoor bar, where we had to wait out a thunderstorm before we could go get dinner, which we didn't eat until around 10 p.m.

One constant reminder of the occasion was my phone, which buzzed every time somebody wished me a happy birthday on Facebook. That's one tangible benefit of FB; you never forget somebody's birthday (if they reveal it) and you always get the gratification of many birthday greetings throughout the day. And honestly, when you get to my age, that's pretty much all you need. It was great to come home to birthday greetings scrawled in sidewalk chalk by the girls and homemade cards and a cake.

Other than my hair getting grayer and thinner, I'm holding up fairly well physically for my age. The injuries tend to nag a little longer, which is why I dropped down from the full marathon to the half at this Sunday's Smuttynose Rockfest. I got about 10 weeks into my marathon training, but the long runs were miserable because of the heat and humidity. And my left heel started developing plantar fasciitis, so it seemed smarter to dial it back on the mileage. When I did Reach the Beach, it was really bothering me on my last run, but it feels a little better now. After Sunday, I need to focus on getting it better.

It's a little hard to believe I'm halfway through my 40s, but I'm okay with it. Definitely snuck up on me, though. The important thing is to continue kicking as much ass as possible.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 245: Apolitical Blues

Part 2 of my conversation with guest Matt Phillion as we discuss the sad state of political discourse. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.

Show notes:
- Matt doesn't like awkward stuff, avoids those types of campaign clips
- They built their campaign around it

- Tim Thomas vs. the White House
- Facebook is full of Constitutional scholars
- Matt is on Romneycare
- Running for office requires a boring past
- You can't escape your past...especially when you post it on Facebook
- Europe isn't exactly running smoothly, either
- Everybody's in a cocoon here
- Matt overuses social media because he's self-employed
- The Internet has made people lazy about research
- Matt wrote a dating column for a while
- When AOL started, emails would delete after 30 days
- The Internet has changed the way we find out about each other
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Paul Westerberg - My Road Now

Robert Pollard - Who's Running My Ranch
A.C. Newman - Encyclopedia of Classic Takedowns
Hot Snakes - Light Up the Stars

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Paul Westerberg song was released last week to the I Will Dare blog. Download it for free from I Will Dare.
The Robert Pollard song is on the album Jack Sells the Cow on Fire Records. Download the song for free from SoundCloud.
The A.C. Newman song is on the album Shut Down the Streets on Matador Records. Download the song for free at Stereogum.
The Hot Snakes song is on the album Automatic Midnight on Swami Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Running on Fumes

This month is flying by, jam packed with soccer practices and games and work trips and concerts and stuff. But once again, I took a few days to do Reach the Beach, the 24-hour, 200-mile relay I've done for the last four years. Most of last year's team returned, but we added two women to our group of 12 including my good pal Molly. On Friday, we met in Salem, NH, and headed up to Cannon Mountain for the 11:20 a.m. start.


I was in van 2 again this year, which meant we wouldn't be running until late afternoon at the earliest. We grabbed some lunch at the same Italian place in Lincoln we hit last year; I opted for the chicken parm and garlic bread. We ran into Bethann, who was on the team a few years ago, and a couple of us went over to her parents' ski cottage near the transition area to hang out for a while and use the bathroom (as opposed to porta-potties). Finally van 1 passed the baton to us just before 5 p.m., with Molly running first.

The weather was perfect; we've been really lucky every year I've run this. I was the third runner in our van, and started running at 6:30. Unfortunately, we hit a lot of traffic during the second leg. We got to the transition area ahead of our runner, but I had to go to the bathroom quickly before I ran. When I got out, our runner was already there, so I just took off without stretching. The 6.36-mile leg was extremely hilly, which proved a challenge. I've been struggling with some plantar fasciitis in my left heel, but that didn't bother me. However, the chicken parm I wolfed down earlier proved troublesome as I huffed and puffed up the hills. But the last two miles were all downhill and I took advantage, hauling ass about as fast as I could. I finished in 53 minutes (an 8:19 pace) and actually came in faster than the next runner expected. I had to wait a few minutes before he got to the transition.

We wrapped our first legs (with two more to go) and handed off to van 1. We grabbed some food at the transition area and then drove the 40 or so miles to the next transition area at NH Vocational Technical College to wait for van 1 to finish up and hopefully grab some sleep. Actually, everybody slept on the ride over except me (I was driving) and Len, who was providing navigation via his iPad.

We got there a little after 11 p.m. and I ended up catching about 90 minutes of spotty sleep in the driver's seat, which wasn't exactly luxurious. Finally we got word at around 1:15 that van 1 was about an hour out, so we got Molly up and started to get ready for the transition. Sure enough, van 1's sixth runner showed up exactly at 2:15 and we were on the road again. The overnight legs are tough because they're hilly, but also because in the middle of nowhere, you can't see anything, even with the headlamps. My second was an 8.5-mile beast starting in Gilmanton. I started after 4 a.m. and was about a half-mile in when my right contact lens popped out. I kept running because what else could I do at that point? I could still see, especially when a van's headlights lit up the surroundings, but when I was on my own, it was tough to make out much. Had to aim my headlamp down every so often to make sure I didn't run off the road. I felt a lot better than my previous run and definitely got a second wind after the first few hills. The damn thing ended on a hill. My time was 1:13 (8:35 pace), which wasn't bad at all. I was just glad to be done.

After our team captain Mark left on his second leg at around 7 a.m., it rained for about 20 minutes but it was a quick storm front. We handed off to van 1 and then went to Manchester to the Airport Diner, where we've eaten breakfast every year. I didn't feel like having an omelette so I went with the French toast; I was so hungry, I inhaled the whole thing and instantly wondered if I'd made a big mistake. I was also starting to feel extremely tired, as I'd slept the least of anybody; I did much of the overnight driving. I caught about a half hour nap as we drove to our next transition in Kingston.

Van 1 showed up around noon and we were headed off on our final legs of the journey. Molly blazed through her last 2.43-mile leg, running 7-minute splits. Len took the 6.7-mile, hilly leg from Kingston to Exeter like it was nothing, just crushing it. I took the handoff in downtown Exeter and almost immediately felt a sharp pain in my heel. I tried to maintain a steady pace and hoped it wouldn't happen again. Fortunately the French toast didn't bother me at all. There were some hills at first as I ran past my mom's old workplace, Exeter Hospital. I felt like I wasn't going very fast, but once I got closer to the end of my leg, the Timberland office park in Greenland, I kicked it into gear. I ended up running the 4.1 miles in 33 minutes (8:00 pace), my fastest of the whole shebang. Even though both my feet were killing me, I was so psyched to be done. I pounded a celebratory Harpoon IPA in the van.

Unlike last year, we actually got to Hampton Beach before our last runner and were able to run in with the whole team. Of course, van 1 had been there for a few hours. We ate but ended up skipping the beer tent and had a quick one in the van before we drove back to Salem. We were all dead tired and ready to go home. I was home around 7:30 and in bed an hour later.

In the end, we finished 144th out of 425 teams with a time of 28 hours, 20 minutes, 21 seconds (8:22 pace). Nice. I've been dragging ass the last few days as a result, but it was worth it.

Completely Conspicuous 244: You're All Talk

Part 1 of my conversation with guest Matt Phillion as we discuss the sad state of political discourse. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.

Show notes:
- Election year's in high gear
- Local elections provide personal access
- My kids are scaring Phillion away from fatherhood
- Blown off by the lieutenant governor
- Mass. senate race has been heated
- The power of SuperPACs
- Candidates are puppets of the money behind them
- Dumbing down the message
- Mass. voters went for Republican governors from '91 to '07
- Big speeches with no substance in them
- All political claims need to be fact-checked
- Tough times for journalism
- Dealing with political posts on Facebook
- The conventions are cheerleading camps
- Most voters have already made up their minds
- Congress sucks, too
- Can the government actually get anything done?
- It's not as simple as red state vs. blue state
- Facebook posts aren't changing anyone's mind
- The Democratic platform and mentions of God
- A bitter idealist
- The stuff you post on FB could come back to haunt you - Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Paul Banks - The Base

Cat Power - Cherokee
Aimee Mann - Charmer
Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!
The Paul Banks song is on the album Banks on Matador Records. Download it for free from MatadorRecords.com.
The Cat Power song is on the album Sun on Matador Records. Download the song for free from MatadorRecords.com.
The Aimee Mann song is the title track of the album Charmer on SuperEgo Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.
The Electric Six song is on the album Fire on XL Recordings. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Changes

I like to think that I'm not stuck in the past. I listen to plenty of new music by new artists. But you wouldn't know it by the concerts I've been attending: Matthew Sweet, Mark Lanegan, Iron Maiden. And Monday night, I saw Bob Mould at the Paradise, playing Sugar's Copper Blue in its entirety. (Not to mention my next two shows, Afghan Whigs and Sloan.)

The last time I saw Mould was in the late '90s at the old Avalon, playing acoustic, and before that, a ferocious set with Sugar at the Orpheum in 1994. He looked a lot different then, pudgier with a full head of hair. Now Mould looks like he could be the comptroller of a corporation, bald with glasses and a beard. But at the same time, he's now lean and mean and he brought that approach to the 'Dise show.


Right from the start, Mould and his ace band (Jon Wurster of Superchunk on drums and Jason Narducy on bass) ripped into Copper Blue, attacking the songs with a ferocity not heard on the album. Mould didn't say a word until the album was through, bouncing around the stage and rocking out with abandon. "Hoover Dam" was especially transformed in this setting, the synths and acoustic guitar replaced by electric riffing. The sold-out club fed off the energy coming from the stage.

Even though he kept the stage banter to a minimum, Mould seemed to be in a good mood, smiling often and clearly enjoying the adulation. After the Copper Blue songs were done, the band kicked into songs from the excellent new album Silver Age, including the title track, "The Descent," "Star Machine" and "Round the City Square." But the place really went nuts when Mould dug back into the Husker Du catalog with "I Apologize," "Chartered Trips" and "Celebrated Summer," with a cover of Cheap Trick's "Downed" squeezed in.

After a decade of exploring new sounds like electronica, it was great to see Mould kicking ass again. Such blasts from the past are a welcome thing, indeed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 243: Sucking in the Seventies

Part 2 of my conversation with guest Ric Dube as we travel back in time and analyze two big hits from the 1970s. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.

Show notes:
- Recorded at More Lost Time world headquarters
- The return of song analysis
- Learning more about Rupert Holmes
- "Escape" tells a depressing tale in a lighthearted way
- Seeking a new soulmate through the personal ads
- Song ends with a wacky twist
- Jay used to belt out Holmes' "Him" in the newsroom of the college paper
- He sings the guitar solo to save money
- Digging into the rest of the album
- Rupert writes about anything like, say, his answering machine
- Holmes did a lot of work in theater and TV
- Wrote songs for "A Star is Born," the Streisand-Kristofferson movie
- "Him" as performed by Barry White
- Clearly inspired by Manilow
- "Copacabana" was a huge disco hit
- Everything was coke-fueled in the '70s and '80s
- Manilow's go-to move was the sweeping ballad
- Manilow's "Bermuda Triangle" was a clear inspiration for Rupert
- Barry found a winning formula
- Gotta love the irony that he didn't write "I Write the Songs"
- We Manil-OD'd

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Divine Fits - Would That Not Be Nice

The Raveonettes - She Owns the Streets

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Divine Fits song is on the album A Thing Called Divine Fits on Merge Records. Download it for free from Chromewaves.
The Raveonettes song is on the album Observator on Vice Records. Download the song for free from KEXP.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Feeling Gravity's Pull

I don't like to sit idle. I stay busy. Sometimes a little too busy. Work. Exercise. Family time. Writing commitments. Podcast. Somehow everything seems to get done when it's supposed to (although I've been neglecting this blog lately).

One thing I hadn't planned on doing this fall was coaching a soccer team. I had coached both Hannah and Lily at different times when they were younger, but I've been content the last few years to watch from the sidelines as a proud parent.

But like Al Pacino in Godfather III (which I DON'T recommend you see because it suck-diddly-ucks), just when I think I'm out, they keep pulling me back in. Apparently there were enough coaches volunteering this year and I was basically told if I didn't coach Hannah's U-12 team, there may not be a team. I'm not entirely sure that was the case, but I didn't want to be responsible for her not being able to play. She really enjoys it and I think she's a decent player.

Of course, this fall is insanely busy for me even without the coaching commitment, which includes TWO practices a week. Work's picking up and I'm going to be out of town the next two weekends for Reach the Beach and a work conference, respectively, meaning I'll miss our second and third games. Our first game kicks off in about an hour and we're a little underprepared because we've only been able to have one practice due to Labor Day and some rainy conditions this week. But it's a good group of girls and I think we'll do okay. And the guy I'm coaching with seems pretty cool. Sure, it's going to add to my stress level, but hey, it's not like my hair can go more gray.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 242: Keep on Truckin'

Part 1 of my conversation with guest Ric Dube as we travel back in time and analyze a big hit from the 1970s. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.

Show notes:
- Recorded at More Lost Time world headquarters
- The return of song analysis
- What's the deal with Bette Midler?
- Woody Allen's curious role in Scenes From a Mall
- Check out Ric's show More Lost Time
- Trucking was a big pop culture fad for a few years in the '70s
- C.W. McCall's "Convoy" was such a big hit they made a movie based on it
- Discovered by the dude behind the Mannheim Steamroller
- McCall didn't sing so much as talk over music
- Sounds like Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went Down to Georgia"
- Convoy did indeed have a soundtrack album
- Digging deeper into the McCall catalog
- Randy Travis is walking the walk
- Ric: Zappa music just sounds like commercials
- Ol' C-Dub just kept on making trucker songs
- McCall starts doing really bad accents of foreign truckers
- He wrote a song about the infamous George Brett "pine tar incident"
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
A.C. Newman - I'm Not Talking

Yuck - Shook Down

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The A.C. Newman song is on the forthcoming album Shut Down the Streets on Matador Records. Download it for free from MatadorRecords.com.
The Yuck song is on the band's self-titled album on Fat Possum Records. Download the song for free from Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.