Monday, August 29, 2016

RTE Bonus: 2016 VMAs "Live Blog"

These shows are so much less fun to watch on the west coast.  With that statement out of the way, let's see how much of an old person I am; are the VMAs still relevant to me?  Let's find out.

That is some intense shoulder choreography!  I am so confused by the butt flaps on the back of Rihanna's outfit.  What are those random things hanging off of her?  Also, what is the stage design here?  What are those big, white puffy things?  I love the dancers in all white and they are making some really cool shapes around her.  Is she supposed to be singing live or are we suspending disbelief?  Because sometimes she holds the microphone up and looks like she's singing and other times she ... doesn't.

Man, Rihanna has a lot of hits!  Her story is a cool one - the way she got discovered, etc.  Or, at least the version in the book 'The Song Machine' is a really interesting "making of a star" story.  No 'Umbrella'?  Solid opening!

Oh, she's performing three more times.  I anticipate 'Umbrella' will come later.

These twitter people are terrible.  Oh wait, is this Key & Peele doing some awful bit?  This is really, truly, completely awful.  Is this what the children find funny?  This is going on forever.

In determining how out of touch I am, I'm giving myself +1 relevance point for knowing all of Rihanna's works.  Minus one for HATING all of these commentators (if indeed the kids are into them).

DIDDY!!!!  In honor of his presence, I'd like to give you my favorite Diddy quote from Making the Band, "Now white girls can dance and have asses?"  I am intrigued by his open front, sheer cardigan thing.  I know 3/4 of these nominees.  CANADA represent!  "Drake is stuck in traffic?"  That's amazing.

The camera really wants reaction shots from Nick Jonas.  He's not giving them much.

I feel like the backstage reporter is just yelling tumblr catchphrases.  Cute dress though.

Oh Hailee, I am not sure how I feel about your dress.  I'm always wary of garments with arrow like imagery in the crotchal region.  I loved her so much in True Grit.

Why is Chance the Rapper dressed like a missing Mario brother?

I'm a little confused by spin class; those are some badass giant legs framing the stage though.  I also question doing spin class in those heels.  This also reminds me of an under appreciated MTV show hosted by Haylie Duff, where they cast the replacement Elle Woods for Legally Blonde, the Musical.  One of the challenges was to sing the show while on bikes to increase cardio strength.  These guys seem right out of Olivia Newton-John's 'Physical' video.  Nikki's hair looks amazing.  That was solid.
I think I'm going to be a lot happier if I fast forward through all these awful commentator segments.

Isn't she a coach, not a co-host?  Maybe I misheard that.  Man, remember when Alicia Keys first came out with 'Fallin'' and we'd never heard anything else like it ever?  I still think that song stands as one of the most interesting, unique commercial radio hits.  Man, she is having a moment here.  Damn, what a voice.  What is Nick Cannon wearing?  I know all those songs!  I like that Rihanna, essentially, just won the 'Best Male Video'.

Phelps!  I read an article about how his ankles rotate 15-20 degrees more than a normal person's ankles, meaning that his giant feet actually function like flippers because he gets more leverage than a normal person.  "I've got the golds but he's got the platinum."  That was adorable.

I don't know this guy; this song has a pretty hypnotic feeling though I could do without the mock sirens.  I dig his super shiny sneakers.

Oh Kanye.  Kim K. looks gorgeous.  I don't follow anything Kardashian but I've read a bunch of pieces about how great their marriage is.  I have no idea if it's true but some of the paparazzi shots of him helping her across puddles, etc. are adorable.  Though, I wonder if he makes Kim role-play Beyonce in the bedroom. I am really confused by this rambling monologue but appreciate he name checked Anna Wintour and Ray-J.  Disney, Jobs, West?

Man, the 80s aerobic aesthetic is getting a lot of mileage tonight.  This lady had to have had a large number of wardrobe malfunctions filming this, right?  Whoa, Now she's a cat?  I am very unclear about what I just saw.  I dig the track.  Really confused about the video.

Naomi Campbell is 46?  She's so gorgeous.

This seems much more like she's actually singing.  I love all these dancers.  I love that it looked like she was in the crowd but they just made a crowd set and filled it with dancers.  That was not as strong as the first medley, but still very good, obviously.

Why is the cancer guy from 'Fault in Our Stars' dressed like the guy from My Chemical Romance?

Why are they making Nick Jonas sing in a diner?  And why is he wearing a leather tracksuit?  Oh look, another Jonas!  He makes some weird faces when he sings.  Not a dealbreaker, obviously but still.  Oh man, that one background guy is living his very best life, singing along and jumping on a table to dance.  I hope he won a contest to be there or something.  I like this song; I feel like most of what solo Nick Jonas has done has been enjoyable.  And he looks so happy!  Good on you, Nick Jonas.

Serena!  What happened to Venus?  I feel like for years, it was always where the two of them were in the standings but over the last several years it's just been Serena.  That is quite the dress, and she seems so excited to be doing this introduction.

Oh man, Beyonce looks terrifying.  Like, are we sure we haven't ceded control of the planet to her based on that look on her face?  And now she's bathed in flames?  #actualtargaryan?  Whoa.  That is some violent imagery.  I feel like being on Beyonce's bad side would be the scariest thing ever.  That is a haunting shot - the baseball bat as she walks away.  I kind of love that she's had enough commercial success that now she's doing this really high concept stuff because she wants to, because she can.  Aww, Bey, you're all sweaty from slaying, you don't need the Cruella coat.  And now she literally burns the place down.  Makes sense.  Holy shit.  I mean, 100 years from now, people are going to reference Beyonce in the same way that we reference Athena or Hera from Greek mythology.  When someone asks what was worshiped at the turn of the millennium in America, it's going to be Beyonce, right?  She's such a presence in our cultural landscape and such an icon and as much as I love commercial Beyonce, I adore that she is out of fucks to give.

I knew all those songs!  Man, this is a lady-centric night so far!  Ha!  Oh, that one stepped on that other one's dress.  Good recovery.

I read a Fortune story on Kim K. about how she made $46 million from her app in its first two years.  Which, damn, girl.

BRIT BRIT!!!  This shadow screen is really cool; I like the hands effect.  I'm not sure chartreuse is anyone's best color.  I feel like this is return to form Britney.  She's lucid, interested in performing, dancing is on point.  Nothing has thrilled me more than her comeback.  It's Britney, bitch! indeed.

Yay Olympic gymnasts!  Holy crap, is that a drone?  Well, Laurie Hernandez is the clear stand-out to go be a spokesperson someday.  In addition to all of her other talents and super powers, does Beyonce also have freakishly strong earlobes?  Those earrings are huge.

I love the show black-ish.  This intro is amazing, if a bit manic.  "You reach into your wallet..." Ha!  Does Rihanna have a mullet now?  And, what is that thing stuck to her leg?  Oh, that's the top of her boot folded over.  Are these leotard/ tall boot outfits in homage to Beyonce?  The first Rihanna performance was my favorite.

Oh, here's where my age shows.  I only know two of the best new artist nominees.  But, one of the ones I know is a winner, so maybe that makes it better?  Though, I had no idea Joe Jonas was in this group.  Oops.

Aw, Troye Sivan.  I listed to him SO MUCH in Australia.

I LOVE THIS SONG SO MUCH.  The lilting back-melody, the sing-song chorus, and a rousing declaration that "we ain't ever getting older"; this is one of my favorite radio songs of this year.  This guy seems super pumped to be here!  Underboob is having a moment tonight too, apparently.  I feel like these guys have to just be so excited to have been included in this.  And, yay, confetti!

I refuse to listen to your freestyle about the bathroom, dude.

Fallon doing Lochte doing Bieber.  Okay.  This is not as funny as Fallon thinks it is.  Can you imagine being Beyonce's daughter?  I feel like there's a joke to be made about changing the name to the BMAs or something.  I can't quite get there.

Mary J!  That is a serious jumpsuit.

Oh good, the mullet is gone.  Whew, this is really gorgeous.  I love that this song has so much tension; you want it to go faster and the piano pulsing makes you think it's going to but it doesn't.  This horn section is no joke. Also, that conductor is having a really great time.  Apparently Drake got out of traffic.  She looks like she's waiting to be asked to prom or something.  He seems so thrilled just to be on the same stage as her.  This is pretty adorable.

(It seems tacky to mention but I hope somewhere, Chris Brown is sitting in a basement feeling like absolute shit about himself.)

Okay, so, my assessment of the VMAs as it relates to me...  I'm still pretty up on the music MTV is actively promoting; I knew all the performers, most of the nominees.  I mean, one would question if kids today care about Britney; it kind of felt like she was the "nostalgia" act (which, let's not unpack that).  I have, apparently, aged out of the comedy that MTV promotes though.  Yikes.

One other thing I'd note is that for the current political climate, it was great that this show was so diverse.  The biggest, most celebrated artists were both black females.  So many of the presenters and nominees were not white guys.  I'm not sure if it was intentional, but with everything that's going on in the current national rhetoric and the election, etc. it was nice to see so much diversity represented so positively.

It's arguable how relevant the VMAs are in 2016, but watching them totally didn't make me feel old.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Repeat Songs of the Week

Ah, RTE.  Every time I say I'm not going to forsake you, I work 200 hours a week and do anyway.  No more empty promises!  Just words when I can.

And more important than words, music!

Waitress Original Cast Recording / When He Sees Me

I saw 'Waitress' when I was in NY earlier this summer and was mesmerized.  It's outstanding and I've been listening to the album ever since.  This song is a treasure of staccato accents and real talk about virtual dating insecurity.

Matt Hires / Restless Heart

I saw this guy on my birthday and I love this song - a foot stomping kiss off.

Seinabo Sey / Poetic

I saw her open for X Ambassadors (eeks! so many concerts I need to write about!) and bawled.  Her voice is magic.

The Trews / In the Morning

"You push everyone away / But you don't want to be alone / You still don't know what you want / But you have to let that go / And trust that the sun will rise in the morning."  I'm just going to leave that there.

Moon Taxi / Morocco

This sounds like something else?  I dig it.

The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey / Closer

This has been on heavy rotation on the Top 40 station I wake up to everyday (gotta stay hip to what the kids are into, obvs) and I love it.  The sing-song monotone of the chorus is so, so catchy.  Plus, I'm going to love anything with the rallying cry of, "We ain't ever getting older."  

Monday, March 14, 2016

'Cause All I Want Is A Taste For Free

Who: Shafty
When: June 10, 2015
Where: Doc's Lab/ San Francisco, CA
With: Rachel, Kellie, Matt, Phil, etc.
Of Note: I'm pretty sure I'm a patron of the arts now!

Okay, so, my first December in SF, I went to a run of moe. shows and made a friend, Rob who lives in Portland because I am was not allowed to have friends in San Francisco at that point in time. Rob and I became internet friends and then even realer friends when I headed to Portland for a work event and stayed the week-end. I'm pretty sure you become bff5eva when there's fondue involved. (And a hilarious bit by Natasha Leggaro where she calls and Applebees and tries to make a reservation. That is perhaps a different story though.)

Anyway, Rob plays in a Phish tribute band called Shafty. I saw them when I was in Portland; they're fantastic. He said that they were putting together a northern California tour and would be stopping in San Francisco. I was excited to see them again! Being me, I said, "Well, if you guys need any SF hospitality while you're in town, I'm happy to have you over for dinner or whatever."

Rob said, "Oh, well what we need is crash space for six and a parking spot."

I said, "Oh, I can totally do that."

And that's how I ended up with six dudes. In my one bedroom apartment. For two nights. There were, essentially, dudes on every available surface. They arrived the day before their show and after an awesome dinner at Burma Superstar and a couple of pints at the Plough & Stars, everyone got settled in. When I woke up the next morning, my plan was to quietly get ready for work, make them breakfast, and leave it all in the kitchen when I headed to work. This plan was foiled by the fact that there was someone sleeping in the kitchen. Like I said, every available surface.

As a side note, can I just note that I make a pretty baller brunch for visitors? If I invite you for Outsidelands boozy brunch, take me up on it. Egg casserole, multiple pancake varieties, fruit salad. The guys were suitably impressed.

Anyway, I rustled up as many SF peeps as I could and headed out to the show that night at Doc's Lab, which, super cool venue. Shafty tore it up, as per usual. People danced and drank and, "felt the groove, man". I tried to explain to some of the SF folk that, though I've never wavered in my dedication to cardigans, I have also spent a significant amount of time dancing in a field like a crazy person to music much like this. I particularly enjoyed Free --> Taste (reprise), as a devotee of 'Billy Breathes'.

When the show was over, the guys thought they'd go to a bar and have a drink. Being that it was 1 am, I laughed at them a whole bunch because San Francisco late night (especially on a Wednesday) is pretty terrible. Then everyone came back to my apartment and Rob, Phil, and I sat on my kitchen floor and drank leftover Dyngus Day beer until waaaaaay too early in the morning. And I thought to myself, "If this is what it means to be a patron of the arts, I'm into it."

And then the guys moved on to their next location and I spent a long time cleaning my apartment. Because, seriously, so many dudes.

These guys also made possibly the best commercial for a gig ever recorded, courtesy of the lazy susan on the big table at Burma Superstar.

And when it was all said and done, I thought a lot about how lucky I am to have such talented people in my life - and not just these guys.  I know people who play music, direct shows, make art, design graphics, write words that can make you cry, do quantitative analysis that is just as beautiful.  I know people who are building bridges and medical devices.  People who save lives, people who change lives through education, people who rehabilitate the wounded.  So, if I don't say it enough: I am astounded by all the amazing people I'm lucky enough to call friends...  all the people making the world a better place, in this case one jam at a time.

Did I mention I had a super awesome VIP All Access pass?  Because I totally did. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Repeat Song of the Week

Jaymes Young featuring Phoebe Ryan / We Won't

Did you know that if you're enough of a narcissist, all songs can be about you?  "Don't call me up at 2 am tonight/ It feels so damn good and I wish you would..."

This song is beautiful and I can't stop listening to it. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

I'm Not the Prettiest You've Ever Seen But I Have My Moments

Who: Tove Lo
When: October 3, 2015
Where: The Fox Theater/ Oakland, CA
With: Ange, Chelsea
Of Note: Now I have two girl crushes!

Once upon a time, I went to Australia. And when I was in Australia, what little time I spent in my hotel rooms/ Airbnb apartment, I spent with the TV turned to the, now defunct, FUSE network (essentially Australian MTV when MTV was still predominantly videos). Anyway, one of the videos that was on constantly was Tove Lo's 'Habit'. 'Habit' is one of those almost perfect pop songs. From the opening, slightly whiny, "Oh ohs," through the contrast of the lilting melody of the verses paired with their provocative lyrics, and onto the desperation of the, "forget I'm missing you," of the chorus... it's really just glorious. And that's before you get to the bridge that builds in stair steps, with additional instrumentation on each repetition of, "Can't go home alone again/ Need someone to numb the pain." It's one hell of a song.

And, it's not just 'Habit' that's a great song. Her whole 'Queen of the Clouds' album is great pop music - beats and hooks - paired with smart lyrics about everyone's favorite subject: love. Having only one album out, she ran through almost the whole thing. We'll get to all my favorites.

Then, there's the other thing about Tove Lo: homegirl is hot. Like, move my number on the Kinsey Scale hot. And, she is an outstanding performer. I liked her staging a lot: the band was present, there were light and fog effects throughout and then it was just her. Like, if she had been touring in 1998 or 2003, she would have had a litany of back-up dancers and a whole lot of choreography. Luckily, it was 2015 and we got her, with a mic and stand, wandering around stage, singing, and doing some really impressive gyrations. And occasionally flashing her boobs. (So hot.)

It's no surprise that my favorites from the album were my favorites from the show. She opened with 'Not On Drugs' with an extended vamp of the opening couple of bars that built sufficient anticipation with the crowd. I thought it clever that the opening song referenced the name of the tour (and album), 'I'm Queen of the Clouds'. This is a song with minimal verses and a big chorus, perfect for an opener. Plus, the chorus perfectly summarizes the feeling of being punch drunk, "I'm not on drugs, I'm just in love."

'Moments' is a song I perceive to be about what happens when things don't tie exactly to the plans you or others made for you. A song about embracing your flaws and imperfections. Alternatively, it's just an excuse to deliver one of the best lines ever, "On good days, I am charming as fuck." Live, the drumbeat was extra hypnotizing - just that bit of syncopation on the cowbell in the hollow space between the chorus and verse.

This all brings us to the set-closing 'Timebomb'. Let's talk about 'Timebomb', shall we? It starts all Vanessa Carlton piano-y and then a verse that's more monotone syncopated chanting than actual singing. And then, my girl Tove Lo, delivers a chorus that explains every single instance a smart, educated, "catch" of a lady has messed with a fuckboy, has accepted less than she deserves, has gone after a guy who is obviously bad news: "We're not forever/ You're not the one/ You and I could be the best thing ever... You and I, we're a timbomb." I love that she's committed, to a kicky synth track, the exact feeling of walking headfirst into something you know is going to end in disaster and yet, you just can't help yourself. And with the added repetition of, "boom, boom, boom, boom," you can actually feel it implode. I'm not sure there's a better song about dating in the mid 2k10s. Or at least a better one to describe my dating life in the mid 2k10s. Bu-dum-bum.

The other stand-out was, obviously, 'Talking Bodies', a song that with a stripped down chorus could possibly be a more explicit, modern update to the sexiest song ever sung, Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game'. The crowd went nuts.

And then, on the BART ride home, Ange & I determined that it was pretty easy to embarrass Chelsea, simply by singing about eating dinner in the bathtub.

I could talk more about how much I enjoyed this: smart pop music performed well is right in my wheelhouse. Plus. So hot.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RTE Bonus: The Last Five Years

This isn't about a concert. But, let's be honest, most of this is really just me talking about how music makes me feel. I'd like to talk about some music that made me feel things last year, music disguised as a movie: 'The Last Five Years'.

'The Last Five Years' is a movie I've recommended to everyone I've talked movies with in the last year. Based on an off-Broadway stage production, it's the story of Jamie and Cathy and their five year relationship. Jamie tells the story from the beginning to the end; Cathy tells the story from the end to the beginning, with one key intersecting point in the middle. It's a sparsely cast film, relying on Anna Kendrick (who I often say I would just... watch eat a salad or something) as Cathy and Jeremy Jordan (who, as I've noted before, I adore) as Jamie. Both performances are stunning. One review (and I wish I could remember where it was but google is failing me) noted that many actors can sing and many singers can act but Kendrick is one of the rarest; she can act while she's singing. I watched it on an airplane (essentially the only place I watch movies anymore) and openly wept. The raw emotion conveyed through the music is almost too much to handle.

The film opens with Cathy's ending; the divorce is so fresh that she removes her rings at the end of the song. This song is so powerfully delivered, Kendrick is all quiet intensity and confusion as she comes back to the central theme, "...and I'm still hurting." Towards the end of the song, she sings, "Jamie is over and where can I turn? Covered with scars I did nothing to earn. Maybe there's somewhere a lesson to learn." And, isn't that exactly how heartbreak feels? Both the lyrics and the delivery perfectly encapsulate that feeling of, "Well, oh shit, what am I supposed to do with myself now?"

Until you understand the structure of the show, it's a bit jarring to move from that to the start of their relationship from Jamie's perspective. 'Shiksa Goddess' is funny and most notable for the amazing chemistry between the two of them.

And then comes the heartbreak of the structure of this show, 'See I'm Smiling', happening just before the break-up, is Cathy trying her very best to convince herself and Jamie that everything is going to be okay. And Kendrick is so phenomenal here, through the first couple of verses you can see the wheels spinning, "He's here, we're laughing, we're going to be okay." Things take a turn for the worse and the last line of the song is, again, one that I've actually said a version of, on more than one occasion, "I swear to God, I'll never understand how you can stand there straight and tall and see I'm crying and not do anything at all."

On the Cathy side of the story, stand-outs include, 'A Part of That', where she chronicles her role as Jamie's muse; the viewer can see the seeds of discontent brewing as Cathy evaluates if she's okay with being genius-adjacent, though not the genius herself. 'A Summer in Ohio' is hilarious, pure musical theater camp, and gut wrenching because you know the blush of newlywed joy is going to wear off. 'Climbing Uphill' includes one of the best positive affirmations available, "I am a good person. I'm an attractive person. I am a talented person," as Cathy chronicles her woes at auditions.

'I Can Do Better Than That' has Cathy recount her pre-Jamie life and make comparisons to her high school friends, the thesis being that she wanted more than her small town, more than the lackluster romances of her youth. Shockingly, I could identify with this. This song guts me. Her message to Jamie is,
"You don't have to get a haircut
You don't have to change your shoes
You don't have to like Duran Duran
Just love me
You don't have to put the seat down
You don't have to watch the news
You dont' have to learn to tango
You don't have to eat prosciutto
You don't have to change a thing
Just stay with me
I want you and you and nothing but you
Miles and piles of you"

And, isn't that the dream, kind of? Not someone that you have to change, not someone you have to work on. Just someone who loves you, who will stay with you. Someone you could, literally, drown in... just for a little while. I mean, this sentiment is also part of what leads to their eventual demise; she's looking for validation, a reason for being, in him. And that's not sustainable. But, man, for just a minute, with Anna Kendrick adorably singing in a convertible while wearing a kicky head scarf, the hopeless romantic in me wants to believe.

On the Jamie side, Jordan is adorable and full of wunderkind genius in 'Moving Too Fast'. I've seen him do this live and it's thrilling. He does most of the heavy lifting in 'Next Ten Minutes', the start of the proposal/marriage cross-over sequence that marks the intersection of their stories. Lothario Jordan is funny and pretty slimy in 'A Miracle Would Happen', but you know that the miracle is not actually going to happen and he's going to succumb to the temptation.

Though not his final break-up song, Jamie's 'Nobody Needs to Know' is crushing in the same way as the opening number. You can see he knows it's just a matter of time and is grappling with his infidelity as his way of trying to deal with it, his way out. "I wrote a story and we changed the ending," is especially poignant given that we had earlier seen Cathy as his muse and her name on the dedication page of his first novel. He takes a similar solo walk through their shared home, visiting artifacts from their past. His last line is perhaps most telling, to one of his one night stands, "And since I have to be in love with someone, since I need to be in love with someone, maybe I could be in love with someone like you..."

This movie is about two people who are so deeply flawed and in spite of it fall in love. And kind of destroy each other. There are a not a lot of misses ('The Schmuel Song' goes on too long) and what hits hits hard and, perhaps, too close to home. This goes on a very short list of "my favorite movies of all time". Grab yourself some Kleenex and give it a watch?

Repeat Songs of the Week

What?  Actual music?  That's crazy talk!

Spotify Discover Weekly has been killing it lately!  To see what they've served up that I like, you can follow my 'Liked from Discover Weekly', a playlist where I toss the week's highlights to not lose the song/ remind myself to check out the band.  It's here:

Here's a couple of my recent repeat songs:

Zerbin / World's On Fire

When I was preparing my senior all-state solo, Glazunov's Saxophone Concerto, there was a passage that my lessons instructor told me, "No!  This is drunk French people reveling in the street!  Play happier!"  The passage from this song, "So we danced in a fount of Parisian merlot with our head in the clouds..." reminds me of that passage.

BONUS (A bonus within a bonus?  What is this?  Crazytown?:

Joseph Lulloff / Glazunov's Saxophone Concerto

And, man, if I ever wanted to make myself feel badly about squandered talents: I used to be able to play this piece.  Like languages, you lose what you don't use.

The New Basement Tapes / Kansas City

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how their singer sounded exactly like Marcus Mumford.  Then I realized it was Marcus Mumford, appearing in a super group of sorts, one with the aim of recording unrecorded Bob Dylan lyrics.

San Fermin / Jackrabbit

This sounds like someone and I can't figure out who.