Friday, March 23, 2007

If You Do it in Numbers They Can't Stop All of You

Decemberists @ Loew's Theatre, Journal Sqaure, JC, NJ

I think we've established on here quite a few times that I am a bit selfish. It's not that I am self-absorbed to the point that I am inconsiderate of others, or self-centered to the point that I think everything should always be about me. It's just that I know what I like/enjoy and what I think is worthy of my time, and everything else can pretty much be damned. That said, it's very possible that the following opinions are held by me and me, only. It's possible that the way I am feeling this morning--after seeing the Decemberists (one of MY favorite bands) at Loew's Theatre (in MY hometown of Jersey City) with MY wife and MY friends--is a feeling only I could have. It's quite possible many left last night's show unimpressed (I'm not sure how) or at least feeling melancholy about what they'd just seen. That's fine. They are probably people I wouldn't care to associate with anyway. So here's the requisite "blog disclaimer": this review of last night's show reflects my biased and uninformed opinion. I don't have a Pitchfork degree in what makes an awesome show. Secondly, I am going to butcher this setlist, so if someone who is in the know stumbles across this here blog and has a more correct version, feel free to post. Alas:

I'm not sure what the fascination is among music writers, fans, and DJs to try to annoint the Next Bob Dylan. Within the last year alone I have heard references to the following musicians as "the next Dylan": Connor Oberst, a bit premature, it seemed; Ben Gibbard, this DJ having presumably been on Ludes; M Ward, which I can "kinda" see; Mason Jennings, enjoyable enough, but...please. Surprisingly enough Colin Meloy's name has never come up that I have heard, which leads me to one question and one exclamation: "Wherefor?" and "Thank god!" Don't get me wrong. I love Dylan and if we insist on crowning a "next (blank)" for every great artist of our idyllic sentiments, then Meloy's as good a victim as any. He covers the basics: he's more of a troubador/poet than any of those other candidates; he's political without beating you over the head with it; he's a jewish kid from Minnesota...err, scrap that. But you get the point. Still, who wants Colin Meloy to be our generation's Bob Dylan when he can be our generation's Colin friggin' Meloy?! Plus, for as much as I loved the Band, they were merely a backup (albeit an excellent one) to Dylan for a short few years. Meloy's the front man, sure, but this is a well-rounded band. Point blank (and without a shred of hyperbole) the Decemberists are the best live band I have EVER seen. Chris Funk is a master of every stringed instrument one can imagine, including a "Herty-Gurty" whatever that is. Jenny Conlee is queen of anything with keys from accordion to keyboard to organ. Nate Query more than holds his own on bass (standup and elec.) plus he looks like he stepped straight out of a J Crew Catalog. Homeboy was dapper and quite the looker. John Moen, drummer, may look like he should be teaching Ethics at some stodgy college (Middlebury, perhaps) but he too can rock, and had quite a sense of humor (in that corny old-guy kinda way.) So, anyway, the band is friggin' good. Like the best of this generation good. I don't need to convince you. Either you agree or you don't. On to the show!

We admittedly missed the opening act, somewhat due to schedule, and somewhat by choice (we could have rushed and caught most of it, or had a beer and some pizza in my living room.) Obviously, we chose the latter. So we walked in, literally RIGHT as the bassline for "The Island/Come & See/You'll Not Feel the Drowning" began to drench the audience in a beautiful (in need of some loving care) old theatre. Finding our seats (second row!) we settled in. It was a bit odd to sit at a show (the organizers at the Loew's strictly enforce this policy, which kinda stinks but actually worked for the "theatrical elements" of the set.) Following a nearly flawless (music-wise) performance of that long opener, which really showed off the theatre's acoustics, Colin made a little banter with the audience. Why don't more bands do this? I have heard the bitching about "I come to see music, not to hear them crack cheezy jokes or shout 'Hello Jersey City!' or whatever." I wholeheartedly disagree. If the music is all you care about stay at home with the album. The playfulness between bandmembers and between band and audience is what makes it FUN!

After referring to Jersey City as the real NJ and Hoboken (where they'd previously played at Maxwells) as, well, Hoboken, they broke into "Yankee Bayonet" with the Shara from My Brightest Diamond (opener) singing Laura Viers' part serviceably. It's not my favorite song, but it played well. I didnt have a pen so the middle of the set is murky in terms of order, but I particularly recall "Crane Wife 1&2" (excellent) "We Both Go Down together" (one of my favs) and Summersong (beautiful.) Giving us a glimmer into what inspired the Crane Wife, and what seemingly inspired the set, itself, Colin introduced "We Both Go Down Together," by saying, "And here's another song about senseless violence." On a more playful note, after referencing our beloved PATH train they blasted through "The Perfect Crime No. 2" (danceable even prone in a chair) "O! Valencia" (a real crowd pleaser) then told, what Colin called, "a story to take home and put under your pillows and give you really weird dreams" ("Shankill Butchers.") Colin wasn't the only one in a playful mood, introducing "Military Wives" (another personal fave) Jenny teased, "here comes the rock!" It was in fact enough rock to "rock (colin's) shoelaces untied" for the second time of the night.

You know when you are absolutely LOVING a show, and at a certain point you get that "shit man, this has to end kind of soon" feeling? Well, that followed "Military Wives," for me especially since Colin extended the song a good 3-4 minutes to engage the audience in sing alongs for the "La de da de da" part (see, audience participation: dorky, sure, but friggin' fun! As, too, were the handclaps.) Fortunately, my fears were a bit premature. After that we were treated to (I think it was after)Grace Cathedral Hill (beautiful and slow) and The Infanta (effin' rocked to the point where I was very tempted to break that "no dance" rule.) For the last song of the set they pulled out oldie but goodie "Mariner's Revenge Song" and inspired some massive audience participation, calling for us to scream at the top of our lungs as the heroes in the song are swallowed once again by a whale. The audience screamed loudly like kids on a playground while a huge puppet whale (think Chinese New Year gone wrong) circled the stage, and the band belted out their last notes. Perfect ending for the set.

As the crowd fiended for an encore I turned to my wife, literally wiping sweat from my brow (remember, we were sitting) and sighed, "The absolute only thing that could make this show any better than it was, is if they had played "Eli the Barrow Boy" or if they Encore with "Sons and Daughters." So what do they do? March back on and play "Eli the Barrow Boy" AND "Sons and Daughters." As the first notes of "Sons and Daughters" fell behind Meloy's voice, "When we arrive..." I had that spine-chilling feeling of bliss that concerts RARELY give me anymore. I didn't think it was possible to feel any better until, leading up to the final chorus line, Meloy urged the audience, "This next line really doesnt work unless all of us sing it, and if you take one thing home from this show, it should be this next line, and you should take it with you on the PATH, or in the car ride home, it goes 'Hear all the bombs fade away!'" And reminiscent of my family singing along to Alice's Restaurant each thanksgiving at Arlo Guthrie's urging ("you people think you're gonna end a war singing that soft?") the chant started quietly, the audience unsure of itself, growing momentum at Meloy and the bandmember's urgency, until blowing up into a standing chant, people clapping along, the entire audience on our feet (damn the rules) screaming, "Hear all the bombs fade away! Hear all the bombs fade away!" for a solid 90 seconds. Look, man, I don't know if music can change the world. But for those 90 seconds--maybe even for that entire show--it sure felt like it could. Dylan at his best always made me believe he was changing music. But this was a different feeling, entirely.

Did I have any complaints? Sure: while I am a fan of audience participation when it is encouraged, I really don't need to know that should Colin Meloy ever come down with strep, dude behind me can easily take over as front man because he knows every friggin' lyric to every friggin' song, and wanted everyone else to know that he knew them. Look man, I love the band too. I holler along to Engine Driver when I am alone in traffic. I dont do it when I am in the audience and the guy who sings the song for a living is three rows in front of me. Also I missed the first half of the UCLA game. Not that it mattered, those jerks at CBS had me programmed to watch OSU/Tennessee anyway. Oh well, guess I can't nitpick too much. I'm not that selfish.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Because Royal Blue and Yellow Just Look Nice

...I admit it, that's the reason I became a UCLA basketball fan way back in the day. It's inexcusable, it's the reason every sports columnists imaginary "wife or girlfriend" pick's their bracket winners, and it belies the general front-runner fair-weather-fan nature of the pick. But when I bought an Ed O'Bannon jersey during spring break of my 12th year, and sat glued to a TV in Florida with awe as one of the most exciting sports team I have ever seen picked apart an overmatched and worn-down Razorbacks press, I fell in love with a basketball team for the first, and honestly, only time. I root for UCLA now, sure. I get bummed when they lose, I love when they win. I hate Steve Lavin with a passion, I hold a special place in my heart for Jim Harrick. When I see replays of the Princeton 43 UCLA 41 game in 1996, I still change the channel. I was in a bad mood for a good two days after the Bruins followed up their most exciting victory in 10 years (defeating Gonzaga in a nail-biter that made Adam Morrison an infamous cry-baby) by throwing out a typical lackluster, "do we really have to play again?" performance in the Championship game against the Gators last year.

That's been the thing about the Bruins, though. They don't really lose heart-breaking games, and under Ben Howland, they don't really win convincing ones, either. They are a deliberate, defensive team that goes on spurts without much pizzaz. They're either getting trounced by a team that shouldn't be waxing the court on which the Bruins play; or they are inexplicably making very, very good teams look very, very shoddy. They win 68-60, and their style of play is--frankly--quite boring. I'll root like hell for 'em, sure. And if they win it all, perhaps in ten years I will blog about them as one of the most exciting teams I've ever seen. But that's what the tournament does. The fast-paced, win-and-in, buzzer beaters, tearful losers, upset special style makes legends out of otherwise flawed teams. It's the nature of the beast, whoever wins it all becomes immortalized as being perfect: because that's what it takes, despite all your ugly regular season moments, and all of your shortcomings, if you can be perfect for 5 games, you make history, and no matter what you do for the rest of your life, certain people will sing your name like a beautiful hymn each time they recall you slashing to the basket one March many years prior. Just ask Ed O'Bannon. The Brackets:

Midwest Round 1:

Fla. d. Jackson St.
Heard a nice interview with the coah of Jackson State on NPR this morning. I'll feel bad for him when they lose by thirty.

Arizona d. Purdue
Good chicken. Mediocre basketball. Lute can pull out a win or two in this bracket.

ODU d. Butler
I know very little about either of these teams, but ODU just sounds like a 12 seed that upsets a 5 seed...and maybe even a 4 seed.

Maryland d. Davidson
DJ Strawberry wins em one game. Daryls wrists are finally unshackled enough to applaud.

Oregon d. Miami(not Florida)
Oregon may arguably be the most overlooked team (not underrated, just overlooked.)

UNLV d. Ga. Tech
I smell a fix. I think I may be the only person picking the Rebs

Wisconson d. TAMCC
I wonder how many people thought A&M just got a really, really poor seed, and picked Wisconsin to lose this one?

West Round 1:

Kansas d. Niagra

Kentucky d. Nova
Nova is the first of the overrated Big East teams to drop.

Virginia Tech d. Illinois
How did the Illini get in over Drexel again?!

So. Ill. d. Holy Cross
As much as I'd love to pick the Patriot League and go with the underdog here, So. Ill. is one of those unheard of teams that is actually damn good. They have dominant guard play, and suffocating defense. The poor man's UCLA.

Duke d. VCU
Two things: it pains me to pick Duke; and this is a particularly weak Duke team. Two other things: Duke at their best are better than VCU at their best no matter what way you slice it; If EVERYBODY is picking an upset, and you dont think either team is going far in the tourney, it always makes sense to stay safe in a bracket challenge.

Wright St. d. Pittsburgh
Second overrated Big East Team to fall.

Indiana d. Gonzaga
This was a coin-flip. Neither team is very good, and neither team is winning the next game. I went with the team I have seen more of.

UCLA d. Weber State
Weber State scores fewer than 50 in this match-up.

East Round 1:

Eastern Kentucky keeps it close and possibly has a lead at the half. People in offices around the country are glued to for the first 5 minutes of the second half. UNC blows them out in the end by 15 or so.

Mich St. d. Marquette
Third overrated Big East team to fall.

USC d. Arkansas
Drexel fans watch with an emotional mix of glee, lament, and disgust. Syracuse fans do the same, although they dont deserve it.

Texas d. NMSU
Kevin Durant has 22 points, 11 boards and eighteen bajillion blocked shots.

GWU d. Vanderbilt
A vastly underrated GWU team...just kidding. I have no idea. I just dont see Vanderbilt winning an NCAA tournament game.

Wash. State d. Oral Roberts
(Insert joke about Oral here) Washington State has three viable scorers, and plays an excellent midcourt trap. They play the kind of basketball that has become very popular in the pac10 of late--namely, deliberate, and chess-like in pace.

Texas Tech d. BC
Bobby Knight is my favorite villain.

Georgetown d. Belmont
Somewhere a relative of JRFN wallows in pain...or actually...goes skiing and probably couldn't fuckin' care less.

South Round 1:

OSU d. Central Conn

Xavier d. BYU
BYU coach is consoled by his seven wives.

Long Beach St. d. Tenn.
This isn't your grandfathers LBS. But it's a good enough team to beat Tennessee.

UVA d. Albany
Could be your big brothers UVA.

Louisville d. Stanford
It pained me to do this. But Louisville is the better team.

Texas A&M d. Penn
I'm trying to think of a reason A&M doesn't win this bracket. Scorers, Good guard play, leadership, good rebounders, not bad from the line. I'm really trying...

Nevada d. Creighton
Nevada's caoch avoids any conflicts with the police for the first round.

Memphis d. No. Tex.
Memphis is quite good. Quite.

Midwest Rd. 2:

Fla. d. Zona
This will be a mop-up.

ODU d. Maryland
Let the George Mason comparisons begin

Oregon d. Winthrop

Wis. d. UNLV

Enjoy it while it lasts, Badgers.

West Rd. 2

Kansas d. Kentucky
If only Kansas had a tougher road to the elite 8, I'd feel alot better about the Bruins chances.

So. Ill. d. Va. Tech

Duke d. Wright St.

..I know....I know.

UCLA d. Ind.
In a slow and boring 68-60 type game.

East Rd. 2


Texas d. USC


Georgetown d. Texas Tech

Aside from Texas this bracket bores me.

South Rd. 2

Ohio St. d. Xavier
Possibly the easiest road to the Sweet 16 in the tourney (guess they are a 1 seed.)

UVA d. Long Beach

Texas A&M d. Louisville
Experience over youth.

Memphis d. Nevada

MY Super Sweet 16

Florida d. ODU
Joakim Noah does what I hope is his last stupid post-victory dance of the season. It probably won't be.

Oregon d. Wisconsin
This could go either way, but should it happen, this will be a phenomenally fun game to watch next weekend.

Kansas d. So. Ill.
Crap, I hate KU.

UCLA d. Duke
Ok, maybe I set it up so UCLA can slay my biggest nemeses back to back in one weekend.

Texas d. UNC
In what will be a physical, barnburner of a game.

Gtown d. WSU
Georgetown has size, but I'm not sure they have much else. Surprisingly, I wasn't very confident in this pick.

UVA doesn't have the front court to keep Oden out of the paint.

Texas A&M d. Memphis

Elite 8

Fla. d. Orgeon
Joakim Noah and his stupid dance advance. For now.

UCLA d. Kansas
About a potential Pitt-UCLA showdown in the previous round, our friend Jake writes: "I have a wierd preminition that this is going to be a late night game in the 70's that i'm going to be watching while drunk at a bar. Does it feel like that to you?" Since Pitt is losing early, I'll apply that statement here with Jakes compliance.

Texas d. GTown
Man alive, is Texas' road to the final four going to be a rough one.

A&M d. Ohio St.
Couldn't find a reason not to advance them.

Final Four

UCLA d. Florida
Avenge last years loss, make Joakim cry. These are two of the things this years team must do to park themselves in my Sports Pantheon with th 2004 Sox, the '94 Bruins, Oil Can Boyd, and Curtis Martin. Oil's in there for personal reasons. Back off.

Texas A&M d. Texas
Or the other way around. Either way a team from Texas wins. And then loses to UCLA in the Championship game.

Hey, what can I say? I told you I was a fan, didn't I?