And the AMG reviews continue

Another little batch here:

Meanwhile, some recent random iPhone photos

Starting with an SF trip ringer, the rest being from down here:

Foggy in SF

Tree against a dusty sunset

Fogbound in OC

A lovely dawn

Two recent OC Weekly features…

Well, both aren’t features, really — last week was a review of David Sylvian’s latest, Manafon. To quote a bit:

In some ways, David Sylvian is trapped in elegant amber, thanks to his stellar work fronting Japan, the U.K. act that evolved into a perfect art-dance bridge from mid-’70s David Bowie to Duran Duran. But the numerous impulses that have driven his muse for years, including his near-countless partnerships with performers ranging from Robert Fripp and Ryuichi Sakamoto to younger guns such as neo-electrogaze icon Fennesz—not to mention an often-intense private life Sylvian has guarded as carefully as his public image—has meant music that long resisted easy categorization. For any short, pop-oriented ballad of his, one could name a cryptic, lengthy composition in turn.

Meanwhile, in today’s issue is my brief interview feature with Tom of the UK band the Horrors, and to quote a bit of that:

“There was a lot of tension in the air, and everyone had sweaty palms.”

Nearly everyone who has been in music has felt like this at least once, somewhere along the line. But bassist/synth player Tom Furse, a founding member of English rock band the Horrors, isn’t talking about a high-profile gig in his home country or even a worrisome intergroup meeting. Instead, thanks to the band’s second album, Primary Colours, the Horrors were up for the Mercury Prize in the U.K., something close to a Pulitzer Prize in music in terms of national attention.

Thoughts on the On Land Festival in San Francisco

The Swedish American Hall stage

As anybody who follows my Twitter feed probably knows all too well, I was up in SF for a few days just now — something I always like to do every so often so I can visit my sis, but also because on that particular weekend the On Land Festival was being held. Started by the good folks behind the Root Strata label, it’s one of any number of festivals and get-togethers this decade inspired by the example of such gatherings as the Terrastocks over the years, in case revolving around the label roster thanks to the many enjoyable acts that have put out releases on it.

I have to say — as I told Jefre of Root Strata directly at some point, I think — that for many reasons this was one of the best such events I’ve yet attended. I think it was down to a combination of things — a good location to start with in the center of the city (literally all I had to do was walk a couple of blocks to catch a tram back to my sis’s after each day ended), wonderful venues in both the Cafe du Nord and especially the Swedish American Hall (most of the festival took place there and the sound throughout was top-notch), enthusiastic support from all involved, good crowd and in the end a really, really sharp collection of bands that played one excellent set after another.

As I put it in one tweet a few bands in, “key hallmark of the festival so far = variety. It is not simply a ‘drone’ festival, each act has a distinct sound.” And that IS key — you could easily sense the throughline on each act, why they released something on Root Strata and why they were at the festival, but while that sense of something overwhelming and awe-inspiring held sway each time, the resultant range is the true measure of success for both label and festival. I had intentionally held back from listening to any of the bands I wasn’t familiar with already prior to the festival, because I just wanted to experience it completely fresh — very glad I did so, it often meant not merely surprises but truly pleasant ones.

Root Strata’s blog has two sets of photos up from the festival here and here, check ‘em both out, along with this clip of the mesmerizing performance by Sun Circle. I’m sure there are many other things out there too, I’ll have to look around a bit!

My own series of photos can be viewed here. For the remainder of this entry, I’m going to pull together the various thoughts via Twitter I had for each performance, plus a link to the band’s site and a representative photo — and please keep in mind a number of acts performed in little or no light at all! Very intentionally. Enjoy, and by all means check out all the artists’ work and support them as you can — as well as the Root Strata label in general via their catalog.

Thanks again to Jefre and Maxwell of Root Strata for pulling it all together — see you next year!

Jefre and Maxwell

Danny Paul Grody

Danny Paul Grody: “…starting the festival with gentle, slow guitar moodouts, then further shifting to keyboards, then acoustic guitar, a gently flowing collage. By adding wordless vocal keening to the layers of sound, the feeling is of a calmer White Rainbow set.”

John Davis

John Davis: “…with help from Maxwell of Root Strata. Davis opening on electric guitar, Maxwell on koto (I think). Elegant melancholic drone from the start. The koto textures the deep drone, which in addition to the landscape film projection is pure slow sunrise beauty….John Davis set just wrapped up on a note of perfect serenity.”

Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes: “…now on stage with a tableful of nefarious devices. A good start….The combination of mixers, pedals, Haynes bowing something and more suggests a lost spaceship, a damaged hulk….Haynes also using acoustic elements well — rhythms and scrapes in a bowl adding a literal crumbling.”

Darwinsbitch

Darwinsbitch: “…deep oscillating drones, electronic violin at a high pitch. Compelling! The combination of the violin’s odd modalities and the vast moaning drone is near Köner-levels of awe. The addition of a slow rising melodic motif put this set at the top of the heap. Stellar.”

Metal Rouge

Metal Rouge: “…focused facing their amps, creating arrhythmic scrabble and drone chaos….their more Sonic Youth/Dead C style playing here is a nice contrast to what has happened so far without disrupting it — again, showing what ‘drone’ can actually encompass. Also, swapping from drums to trombone = nice touch!….And they even ended on a drum solo because why not!”

William Fowler Collins

William Fowler Collins: “…now starting with a big ol’ blast of feedback — that was more a soundcheck — now playing to film accompaniment of water/bubbles. Suggestions of an Old West in the shadow of electricity, twang lost in echo and drift, dark roars….A screech of wires across a night desert, looming power terminals over blasted sand. Majestic.”

Starving Weirdos

Starving Weirdos: “Unlike at Bottling Smoke, this time there’s light onstage….Set up reminds me of early Pelt but sound is more of a mix of echoed howl, mixing murk, chimes, unease. Perhaps the most theatrical show, sonically if not visually.”

Scott Goodman/Operative

Operative/Scott Goodman: “Pure sine wave oscillation madness so far. The equivalent of liquid chalkboard scraping….Okay now that the full drumming is kicking in it makes more sense — New Wave Lightning Bolt, kinda. Suggestions of Suicide, DAF, Trans Am, Mouse on Mars — aggroelectro. Yet still droney!”

Joe Grimm

Joe Grimm: “…now starting, with his film/audio setup on the floor, projecting to the stage….The most minimal of the shows so far — Grimm avoids expected stage presence and projects blank white, letting the flicker of the two beams match the buzzing hissing insect drones he creates, a thousand angry bugs. The constant changes in screen flicker suggest ghost images, all while the drones get angrier and louder.”

Pete Swanson

Pete Swanson: “Saw Yellow Swans once, will be interesting to see the difference….has guitar and mike ready but so far it’s rumbling craggy drone….I’d say this was the most shoegaze set yet, but of the cryptic aggro version — FSA at its most unhinged. Shifting to classic guitar/buried sing scream style now, fighting through waves and waves of sound.” (I randomly mentioned this comparison to Pete later and he suggested more of a Gate sound, which makes PERFECT sense.)

Ducktails

Ducktails: “…a guy, a guitar and a lot of gear, plus bright lights. And twinkly keyboards….it’s all rather sparkly somehow….Okay and the sample swirl explains the Hawaiian references — like a lazier Avalanches, not without charm. This might be the first performer ever who takes percussive inspiration from Tones on Tail’s “Slender Fungus.”

The Alps

The Alps: “…after a slightly rushed soundcheck, the Alps are good to go. The first ‘traditional’ rock band lineup of the day, but aiming for mantras in a Spiritualized sense in part….Also exploring open zone freakouts, Stooges/Can steady builders, an effective tour of styles.”

Keith Fullerton Whitman

Keith Fullerton Whitman: “Keith Fullerton Whitman has plugged in his box of mystery wires and we’re off and running. And I’m definitely not kidding about the box….Whitman uses/abuses electronics to make them both uglier and prettier, a simultaneous reworking. The pulses, abbreviated melodies, loops and underscoring crushing collapse just screams tension. One senses Whitman is willfully unsure what the machines will do, testing to see what happens.”

[Tarentel was next and closed out the first night, and by all accounts slew. But I was wiped! Had to cut out early and recuperate -- I've been lucky enough to see them before so I knew they would rule and I regret having to duck out. Next time!]

Brendan Murray

Brendan Murray: “As the photo sorta shows, this is another set where films are key, with Murray behind his computer. Murray’s work is a kind of classic drone, overlapping tones and rhythms as deep, strange contemplation. The choice of film projections — insects, water, plants — is actually more soothing than the music!”

Common Eider, King Eider

Common Eider, King Eider: “…a duo, with one on two guitars and violin and another just guitar. Very contemplative, calm Charalambides style to start, but tension builds….Should also say there’s a third member, a pianist off to the side hidden by amps a bit. The combination is ultimately familiar but still striking, forlorn voices and notes in suspension.”

Sun Circle

Sun Circle: “Sun Circle begin with low light and hand percussion, plus mixers….It’s a lovely way to suggest ‘wrong’ elements (drum circles, new age spirituality) via a different context. Meanwhile, slow building feedback murmur textures and starts to override the performance as viewed/interpreted.”

Barn Owl

Barn Owl: “Flying Vs and guitars with bows. It’ll be bemusing, whatever is about to happen….Yet the result is calm and contemplative, both guitars bowed while films again play. As ever, by forcing the eye away from the band, the result is strange disconnect, an actual film soundtrack even when, as now, the duo now play guitar directly, a dreamy slow spiral down akin to Isis or Jesu, or even Sunn0))) at a stretch, but cleaner and less obviously metal or shoegaze, if you like….Even now, moving fully toward full drone howl, it’s a feeling of black walls of sound, performance hidden away.”

Ilyas Ahmed

Ilyas Ahmed: “Ilyas fronting a trio lineup. With Honey Owens of Valet on guitar and Jed from Heavy Winged on drums, it’s a nice switch from Ilyas’s solo approach….There were rumors of Doors-like rock sleaze for this set — no leather pants yet….The feeling so far is of Ilyas at his most serenely unsettled — spikes and starts behind an air of calm. His keening vocals here feel more lost in the music as a result, a sinking anchor into bubbling water….The shift to full improvisation makes sense, given his affinity for and knowledge of many musical approaches.”

Christina Carter

Christina Carter: “Her ever-powerful, wordless wails are as stunning as when I first heard them ten years back, plus having seen Joan La Barbara in her company the other day, her approach has a greater context for me, less rhythmic but more free and swooping, yet equally yearning to reach beyond linguistic traps which, matched by her shards of reverb country guitar, relentlessly suggest fracture and refraction.”

Grouper

Grouper: “Grouper now starts, her own vocal keening and guitar approach complemented by a slew of pedals and films….By playing her initial parts as samples, she moves the focus from direct performance to direct manipulation, her individual parts of playing become redone elements in flowing evolution….By contrasting Christina Carter’s immediate performance with Grouper’s, the festival rightly concludes with an extension of the themes of like/unlike — common elements but individual approaches, set for set….The return to vocal/guitar now complements the samples in turn, working them back into a slow, depthless riff, another demonstration of Grouper’s ability to know the difference between homage and invention in that this does not reconstruct shoegaze, sampling, loops etc but aims for a shifting new synthesis….The silent presence of the audience has never felt so strong before now. It seems fitting to end the festival thus. It is also is fitting to end with a rich sound, feedback and delay plunging down and down, perfectly suiting the dark black water of the film, light sparkling on the edges, framing the full depths. A triumph of art.”

Homemade gazpacho and homemade bread


The story behind this was pretty cool — the other day, when I came into the Avanti Cafe to pick up my latest basket of farm goods, I was very kindly given a container of tomato pureé ‘to show your creativity with,’ I was told! No looking of a gift horse in the mouth there, and after some thought I decided, given the weather, that a cold soup was the way to go.

There are a slew of gazpacho recipes out there but this one seemed of interest, and proved very enjoyable — the pureé appeared to be of roasted tomatoes, to add some bite to it, while I had just about all the other ingredients to hand to start with.

In the meantime I just made myself a nice homemade herb bread as well, with parsley, rosemary, onions, garlic and parmesan. The combination was a treat and I still have some left over!

“Pain don’t hurt”

The passing of Patrick Swayze wasn’t a surprise — his struggle with pancreatic cancer had been reported on for some while — and given his irritation with some of the earlier tabloid stories claiming he had already passed on, it’s actually a blessing to learn via his publicist only the barest details: that his family was with him, and that the ending was peaceful. This is as it should be, when something so unavoidably sad has to be faced.

What’s fascinating to see already in the first couple of hours after the news broke is the range of reactions, and the realization that, on top of anything and everything else, Swayze owned not merely one signature role but several, all in different ways. As my friend Alfred said over on ILX after the news broke, “He seemed like a genuinely good guy, moderately awed by his level of fame — a decent actor who knew his limitations.” Later Scott Seward noted something fun:

my fave swayze moments in no particular order:

the outsiders (bloody greasers)

uncommon valor (bloody big muddy mia revenge)

road house (homoerotic bloodfighting)

next of kin (bloody hillbilly revenge)

steel dawn (bloody post-apocalyptic murder gangs)

youngblood (bloody hockey fights)

red dawn (greatest bloody russian movie ever made)

point break (bloody zen surf robbers)

On the one hand a ridiculously funny commonality between the films, on the other hand, think of all the roles in question — sure, Swayze also ties them all together, but is there that much in each and every one of those roles that does that otherwise? Some actors play the same character over and over, but Swayze — whether by intent, luck, or some combination thereof — didn’t do that at all.

After all, consider Scott’s list, and then think of what isn’t on it — Dirty Dancing, Ghost, City of Joy, To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything. Hell, even consider what are almost his bookend roles now, Donnie Darko and, stepping back to a movie I’d never even heard before tonight, Skatetown USA — and now that I have heard of it and seen these clips:

Basically, new favorite movie time, right there.

As Alfred notes, a large part of what made Swayze such an interesting, enjoyable figure is the fact that he seemed to easily roll with his fame, no easy thing to do given everything that had gone on in his life — the LA Times obituary discusses the drinking problem that affected him during his most famous years, not to mention the tragedy of his sister’s suicide.

As a counterexample, consider someone like Bruce Willis, whose own huge burst of fame neatly paralleled Swayze’s but who only ever seemed to end up playing himself time and again during that time, the smug wisecracking asshole, and who in real life seemed to only be a smug wisecracking asshole as well. He could have NEVER let his hair down enough (literally) to make fun of his own image so perfectly as Swayze did here:

And given Willis’s own horribly lumpish attempts at a singing career, it says something that while Swayze wasn’t about to tour arenas, his own late eighties hit riding the Dirty Dancing soundtrack connection is actually not that bad, slick state-of-the-art production that goes down smoothly, mannered vocals and all:

But to return back to my key point — it’s amazing to see so many friends/commenters/random folks jump to not one key role or phrase, but several. Sure, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” might be the one above all else, but for every Dirty Dancing mention out there I’m seeing a Point Break one, for every Ghost mention there’s an Outsiders one. There’s a whole host of idiot right wing commenters that are honestly going to tear up over the fact that the guy who shouted “WOLVERINES!” in Red Dawn is gone, while the Donnie Darko worshippers are having their own say. Hell, I’m pretty sure I first remember him from North and South on TV, having fun in Civil War drag and all a decade before breaking out the actual drag for To Wong Foo. A hell of a random range of fellow actors, directors, screenwriters, styles — the resume of a working actor, but the resume of a working actor with movies people actually watched and remembered, and he was a big part of it in the end.

As the post title indicates, it’s the goofy-ass genius of Road House that’s my own touchstone — Phil Freeman solved the whole conundrum of what made this movie so relentlessly fascinating a while back when he said that what it really is is a fantasy like The Lord of the Rings. Which may sound ridiculous on first blush, but nails it — there’s good and evil (hell, there’s even yin and yang fat guys), troubled townsfolk, vicious henchmen, a grizzled old companion who of course has to die at some point (Sam Elliott has kinda played that role ever since then, but to his credit does it well each time), and of course Our Hero, every feather in his hair styled just so, possessed of seemingly supernatural abilities to get through it all despite the fact that he takes more beatings than entire armies. Like the man says:

It’s hilarious beyond description and it hits every beat just right, it has its cake and eats it too. It’s no wonder that this film in particular became an obsession of the MST3K crowd, especially Mike Nelson, who debuted RiffTrax with a solo take on Road House, and who wrote this slice of genius for a 1991 episode (broadcast, logically, around Christmas):

To end on two points — first, an ILX anecdote from another poster, that captures what Alfred was saying about Swayze’s ability to keep his head on straight and take it all as it came:

I was working at the hotel he stayed at when they were filming North & South Pt 2 in Natchez. He liked to hang out at the hotel bar, but inevitably would have to bail when the groupies started gathering around him. I’d seen him around for a few days, and he already knew about the service elevator by the time I happened to be walking through the lobby and met him coming the other way fast.
“Hey buddy, can you help me a minute?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Can you take me up to seven in the service elevator?”
“Sure, no problem.”
On the way up, he says “There were a couple of girls in the bar I had to get away from.”
“haha, glad to help.”
Silence while I concentrate on stopping the (manual) elevator flush with the 7th floor.
“Smooth.”
“Thanks…here you go.”
“‘Preciate it, buddy.”
“Any time.”

…RIP

And lastly, again via the LA Times obit, the man himself, from a few years back:

When asked in 2004 what he did in his spare time, he told The Times that he didn’t have any — being a rancher, wildlife conservationist and actor-director-producer kept him busy.

“I feel like I wasted time with stardom back in the ’80s,” Swayze said. “Now I want it all. I want to do as much as I can.”

The right attitude to always have. And he did more than most. RIP sir.

The importance of luck in photography

I can’t imagine any photographer saying that luck doesn’t play a key role in their work — the idea of ‘right place, right time’ is almost paramount. Thus, this photo — which I wouldn’t have taken if I hadn’t been going to the Apple Store near where I live to get a new connector between my new computer and my old monitor. The time was right, I had my iPhone with me, the moment suggested itself plainly.

A couple of earlier shots from that evening:

And another sunset from earlier in the week:

Again, luck is the key…

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