Backwoods Banjo (338th new thing).

November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

My friend Kallen took up the banjo about a year ago. She downloaded some iPhone apps and pretty much taught herself. I was thoroughly impressed. I tried learning guitar a couple times in my life, with a teacher, but I always eventually stopped practicing and let it fall by the wayside. Thus carving out the time to practice alone, when you could be doing any number of more instantly rewarding things is a job well done. And on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Eight Kallen taught me a little banjo.

We decided the evening could be a combined banjo lesson-doggie date. Kallen’s pooch, Boris, is a great foil to my pup Murphy. It’s weird how dogs play differently with other canines, and Boris and Murphy instantly turn into a happy growling Tasmanian Devil whirlwind of fur and face.  They twirl around the room in a blur of white and brown, bumping into tables and knees and walls, eventually breaking away for a game of tug-of-war or chase.

After the dogs had fallen into their whirlwind routine and Kallen and I had consumed a little wine and a lot of pizza (mushroom and roasted garlic, holla), we settled onto the couch as Kallen pulled out her iPhone and began to show me a few banjo learning apps.

I was amazed by what technology can teach you these days. Within the banjo playing application, the user can slow down or speed up the lines of sheet music to play along. I sat with the banjo tucked in my lap and strummed along with the fingering diagram. On the slowest speed, and I probably missed a few notes.

Next Kallen began to teach me to play the infamous theme from the 1972 film Deliverance, set and filmed in my home state of Georgia. Funnily enough, the first time I watched the film was in a remote cabin along the shores of Lake Rabun, near Clayton County where the movie was shot. Authenticity, right?

The Teacher

First Kallen strummed along…duh nah nah nah nah nah nah nah naaah… She played the opening notes a couple times and then passed the instrument along to me to give it a go. It took a few tries to find the proper fingering, but before long I was picking the notes in between mistakes, in a highly unintentional staccato fashion.

Once I had mastered the simple opening line, we moved on to the next row of musical notes which sound like the beginning of  “Yankee Doodle.” Duh duh duh duh duh duh duhn…I know, my words are amazingly clear in conveying the music.

Slow and Steady

All of this took enough time to where we decided it was time to let the (still) playing dogs outside. We took a couple glasses of my latest homebrew with us. And I managed to lock us out, pulling the door closed before Kallen made sure her key was on her person. Oops.

Thus the banjo lesson ended and the next lesson in climbing and trying to reach Chad, Kallen’s boyfriend, without our cell phones (safely tucked inside) began. Eventually we made it back inside as the man of the house returned from band practice. It was pretty late by this point, so I gathered Murphy and headed home. I hummed the first lines of music I had learned that evening for about a week afterwards. And probably will for the next week too.

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Goat Farm (337th new thing).

September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had never been to the Goat Farm in Atlanta’s Westside area of town. I had also never seen Thurston Moore play. I have seen Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Jim O’Rourke play an awesome live film/soundtrack collaboration called “Perfect Partner” ago in Gateshead, across the river from Newcastle (that was in England, y’all), but no Thurston Moore. I remedied both these lack of firsts on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Seven when Patrick and I headed to the Goat to see Thurston Moore.

The Goat Farm is a creative commune with studios for all kinds of artists.  I did not see any goat, but I did see aged brick buildings clearly used to hold machinery and livestock a hundred years ago. It was night and the darkness seemed to add a mystical aura across the rocky footpaths leading towards the performance space. We passed a small tea shop that housed the only indoor bathroom with a line of people to the door.

We walked on, following our noses to a food truck selling tasty desserts and hot chocolate just outside the entrance to the show. The performance was held in a giant high school gym sized building with broken windows and ivy growing up the sides. It was a pretty fantastic environment. I suppose it would be considered more of an event space (as opposed to venue) considering that the PAs, lights, electricity, and video screen all had to be brought in from outside sources. But it sure did make a gorgeous picture.

Matthew Smith/Shadowboxer Photography

And here is the point where I mention that I really enjoyed the show, despite not being a Sonic Youth fan. Well, not that I’m not a fan, but more that  at the time of the band’s heyday I was dreaming of England and filling my ears with Britpop the likes of Pulp, Blur, and even Oasis. If you want to know what the sound was like, a fortunate soul recorded the entire performance. See all 83 minutes here.

After the show, Patrick and I trudged back to the car which was parked just over the entrance. I laughed to myself as I overheard two hipsters on dates discussing how great the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens was. “It’s not the best, but for $100, it’s the closest thing you can get to a disposable lens. It sucks if you have to replace it, but at least it’s only a hundred bucks.” I mostly laughed because I kind of agree. Does that mean one trip to the Goat Farm and I’ve turned into one?

Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel (330th new thing).

August 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Patrick had been working on a super secret show for years. Literally…two years. If I walked into his office and he was emailing an agent about this high level secret he would cover the screen with his hands or minimize the window. Curiosity aroused, I managed to catch the initials “JM” in the subject line. I started spouting off names of any act I could think of who may have fit the JM description. And some who didn’t. Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Mungo Jerry? I didn’t even stay in the parameters of the living. At one point I suggested Jeff Mangum, but Patrick didn’t flinch. Still, I felt it was the best guess so far. And I was right. So finally on Day Three Hundred Thirty for the first time ever, I saw Jeff Mangum play live.

I arrived late to the Neutral Milk Hotel fan world. I bought In the Aeroplane Over the Sea when I was twenty-three, four years after the band had essentially stopped touring and recording, in the Newcastle HMV. However, it only took one listen for me to move the album to an imaginary top ten list. I found myself almost daily putting in headphones and jumping manically around my tiny grad school dorm room in frigid England, lip syncing to “King of Carrot Flowers Part 2 & 3.” So while not a long-time super fan of Jeff Mangum and his music, I only had positive associations.

It was raining as I hurriedly parked my car a block away from Variety Playhouse and rushed in before the headliner began. I met Patrick in the lobby, waved hello to a few friends and acquaintances, and ordered a beer. Despite the fact that the show was sold-out and the standing areas along either wall of the theatre were beyond packed, we managed to find a couple of empty seats toward the back of the room, with a clear view of the stage. And shortly after a tall scruffy looking man called Jeff walked on stage to begin the acoustic rendition of “Two Headed Boy Part 2.”

The crowd roared into anticipatory applause. Nineties Athens indie rock was brought back to life in Little Five Points for a night. Chills ran down my arms, and stayed there throughout the show. At one point I looked up at Patrick and saw him begin to well up under memories and nostalgia. Seeing Jeff Mangum was a huge burst of youthful remembrance for him. He grew up with this music, in college for the heyday of Neutral Milk Hotel.

As the more popular songs were played with minimal instrumentation, the audience sang along. I wanted a big musical crescendo as “King of Carrot Flowers” (all parts) was played, but the additional musical support on stage was spaced out. Andrew and Laura from Elf Power, Scott Spillane from Gerbils and Neutral Milk Hotel, and another musician all took turns joining Mangum on stage.

It really was a fantastic live music experience. Even without the electric guitar and drums and even the theremin. the show rocked. And now I have another happy memory to associate with what is still an album on my imaginary “Top Ten” list.

Even as a thirty year old I will still listen to “King of Carrot Flowers” with headphones and thrash madly around the room.

Alabama Shakes (311th new thing).

April 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

Patrick had seen the Alabama Shakes at the EARL months earlier, but my first time seeing the band was on Day Three Hundred Eleven, when they opened up a benefit show at Athens’s 40 Watt club. I had streamed songs from their website (since updated) and really enjoyed their bluesy rock and unique vocals. Patrick was super excited about seeing them live again, telling me they were going to blow up. And he was pretty spot on.

We headed to Athens straight after I got off work on a Friday night. It was only a day (or evening) trip for us, and we planned to head back to Atlanta after the opening act played, maybe catching a couple of songs from the headlining Drive By Truckers.

The show was amazing, one of the best live performances I had ever seen. The band had soul, the lead singer a riveting voice, and I was enchanted with her facial expressions as she sang, mouth opened wide at an angle as she belted out lines, her glasses slipping down her nose a little. Mostly, I was impressed with how fresh and unique their sound was. The rock and blues influences were obvious, but the sound itself was certainly their own.

We stood next to a couple of out-of-town Englishmen who made it a vacation to travel to Athens, GA and see the Drive By Truckers every year for the benefit performance for Nuci’s Space. After the Shakes, I overheard them gushing that the opening act was one of their new favorite performers, decided spur of the moment, from listening to that one show.

We weren’t alone in our delight with the Alabama Shakes. As Patrick predicted, the band has indeed exploded on the music scene with a full length album, a stint on Letterman, and a sold out European tour. Pretty good for a few young things from Alabama.

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer is Singing Loud for All to Hear (288th new thing).

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

I don’t own any Christmas albums, not even any cheeky or cheesy holiday classics by Bing Crosby or Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” I’m pretty sure he only time I listen to the seasonal tunes is at my parents’ house when my mom insists we have a soundtrack to our festivities. Maybe in the mall as well should I ever be forced to fight the crowds for last-minute shopping. So on Day Two Hundred Eighty-Eight I decided to enhance my Christmas spirit by listening to holiday songs played continuously on a local fm radio station. I also bought a Christmas song on iTunes: “Merry Christmas Everyone” by Shakin Stevens, a real English classic that reminds me of my cousin’s school recital nearly ten years ago.

I realized that my taste in holiday tunes definitely trends towards the classics I listened to as a kid. Wham!’s “Last Christmas” brought a smile to my face as did Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.” I almost changed the station during the second airing of a Mannheim Steamroller song, but I was glad I didn’t when David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy” came on.

The music made me cheerful and filled with holiday spirit. I curled up next to my still bare Tree and for the first time in years, it really felt like Christmas time. It probably helped that I was bawling my way through Elf.

Bon Iver in Cobb County (142nd new thing).

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day One Hundred Forty-One found me headed to the Cobb Energy Center at the junction of I-85 and I-285 to see Bon Iver for the first time, with the Rosebuds opening up for them. It was my second show in a row, and second 2000+ person amphitheater at that. These circumstances really don’t happen very often.

Patrick and I met at the box office and headed into the opera house-meets-theater venue. There really are no bad seats at the Cobb Energy Center, but ours were especially appealing. Seated right behind the rail dividing the lower level orchestra seating from the next height, we had no tall people or standers in front of us to block our view. The acoustics were pretty great- a big warm sound, especially as the headliner played.

The Rosebuds

We had seen the Rosebuds at The EARL a month or so earlier, and I have to say that I prefer the band on a smaller, more intimate stage. Patrick and I had the fortune of being in Barcelona several years ago at the same time as a Rosebuds tour. We went to their show followed by a disco filled dance club experience. That was my favorite time seeing them, but I’ve never had a bad experience. Their energy is contagious.

Bon Iver

Bon Iver filled the room with sweet voices and instruments. I had only really listened to the For Emma, Forever album and enjoyed it immensely. I was able to hear a lot more than just those few songs during the show. The array of instruments and sound really gelled well with the acoustics of the venue.

Patrick and I left shortly before the encore as both of us had long days and early starts the following morning. Even if I didn’t get to see the entire performance, I surely enjoyed myself. Although I woudn’t want to drive out to Cobb often, the venue is great to see bands as a random treat.

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Giant Beer at Lakewood (141st new thing).

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Day One Hundred Forty-One found me going to Lakewood Amphitheater with Patrick to see Band of Horses opening up for Kings of Leon. While I had been to Lakewood a couple times before in my teenage years, I had never been old enough to consume one of their giant 24 ounce beers. It was huge.

We didn’t know if we were going to be able to attend the show; Patrick played baseball as a kid with Ben, the lead singer of the band, and also tour managed for them many years ago. However, being the opening act at the beginning of (what was supposed to be) a two month tour did not afford the band any comp tickets, so for a brief moment we thought we would get in by masquerading as crew. That would have been pretty cool (and probably have made for a better new thing),  being a fake roadie. In the end, Patrick got tickets from their tour manager, so we had real tickets for real seats.

The people watching at the amphitheater was unreal. I find myself openly staring at people these days, day dreaming about their back story and what they do and think. Dudes dressed as rockers in a tight all black ensemble, dads sitting with their underage daughters and daughter’s friends, women in girlfriend groups drinking 24 ounce bud light and dancing like my mom would. It was unbelievable eye candy,  and I was tasting the sugar. I should probably learn to curb the blatant staring.

Band of Horses sounded great, even though Ben broke a string in the second song. I opted out of seeing them open for Archers of Loaf a few days before, so I was glad I got to see the Charleston based quintet play this year. I like Kings of Leon too, in that I own their first second album, and maybe the secondthird, but have really only listened to the former. Patrick is not  a fan, so we only stayed through a few songs before our stomachs informed us it was time to eat something that was not served off of a paper plate or napkin. As we walked out, KOL (as the “cool” people call them) were busting into a very alt-country sounding number that drove the frat boys and their short shorted girlfriends mad with excitement. I had heard a couple songs from Aha Shake Heartbreak, so I was ready to say goodbye to their crazy drunken fans.

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