Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

Category: music (page 1 of 9)

One More Saturday Night (The Dead @ RFK: 6.24.95)

Back in the early ‘90s, I always taped the Grateful Dead Hour at midnight on KGSR. Didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing, come 11:45, I was home to record it. I had never seen the Dead live, but I loved to hear their live sound. One Saturday night around April of ’95, some friends were over listening with me and while we were enjoying a particularly good “Fire on the Mountain,” I was hit with an overwhelming sense that I had to see the Dead. Now. Jerry just wasn’t going to around much longer.

Since they hadn’t played in Texas since the ’70’s, I knew we’d have to travel, and while four of us planned to go, two dropped out (“Next time,” they both said) and so it was that on June 21, 1995, R (who was not yet my wife) and I set out a little before midnight for Washington, DC where they would be playing RFK Stadium that coming Saturday. We had dry cereal, peanut butter, bread, a gas station card and a few bucks between us to get there.

We spent Thursday night in Knoxville and on Friday rolled into Washington where we planned to stay with an old high school buddy who was, incidentally, the person who introduced me to the Dead. We saw the sights and even visited the house in Springfield where I lived when I was a kid in the late ‘70s. And then, on Saturday night, we saw the Dead. Bob Dylan opened and underwhelmed as he tends to do, but when the Grateful Dead came out and opened with “Jack Straw” I had one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-here moments. Quite simply, I had arrived at the promised land.

Longtime Deadheads pan these latter shows. Jerry was fading, and it was obvious to the band’s most dedicated followers that something was off, but for us, this first-and-only Dead show was magic. I have never been to any show before or since where I felt compelled to pay such close attention and where I was willing and able to just let the music carry me away.

The setlist included some of my favorites and some that I’ve come to love since then (h/t dead.net):

Jack Straw
Althea
Little Red Rooster
Friend of the Devil
El Paso
So Many Roads
Promised Land

Iko! Iko!
Way to Go Home
Saint of Circumstance –>
New Speedway Boogie –>
That Would Be Something –>
Drums –>
Space –>
The Days Between
One More Saturday Night

Black Muddy River

I’ll never forget the energy and excitement of “Iko! Iko!” or the way Bruce Hornsby ran away with “Promised Land” or how they put the boogie back into “New Speedway Boogie.” Most of all, though, I’ll always remember the way Jerry sang “Days Between,” a real favorite of mine. It’s not on any of their official releases and was written only a year or two earlier, but it’s one of the best Dead songs ever, dark and longing, beautiful and terrifying. Jerry poured what little was left of himself into that strange, cryptic song and held the audience captive all the while.

Who knew it would be the last time they would play “Friend of the Devil” and “That Would Be Something” and “Days Between”? And what an unusual portent it was for them to close with the first “Black Muddy River” in almost 4 years. In fact, a few weeks later, it was one of the last songs Jerry would sing with the band, allegedly altering the lyric from “black muddy river” to “last muddy river,” an interesting change in a song about the realization that there are more days behind than ahead of the aging singer who now at the end must face his failures. It’s a song that aches in its beauty and that night, hearing them close with it, there was a certain finality we felt even if we didn’t quite understand.

And that was it. Just another Saturday night in Washington, DC. We hung around Sunday and drove straight through to Austin on Monday. A month and a half later, Jerry Garcia died. It was August 9, and we were at Lollapalooza. My other favorite band, Sonic Youth, was headlining and as the moon rose over South Park Meadows (before it was paved and turned into a strip mall), they closed with a new song, an epic trippy-sounding psychedelic punk jam, called “The Diamond Sea” that Thurston Moore introduced simply by saying, “This is for Garcia.” It was gorgeous, and a fitting tribute.

As the years passed, I’ve always wanted to hear our Dead show again and a few years ago, I downloaded it from the Internet Archive where a generous taper had uploaded it. I’ve been listening to it and enjoying it all over again. Perhaps not surprisingly, the things I remembered most clearly come through as powerfully as they did in person.

It was a wonderful moment in a strange and wild time. A beautiful time in which anything was possible and nothing seemed more important than racing across the country to see a band play on a Saturday night. A few months later, I quit the freelance film life and started a “regular” job to save money for grad school, and so that trip and that show seem kind of like a last hurrah for me in a lot of ways. It was an ending but a beginning too, as they usually are.

I’ll never know what I heard in that Grateful Dead Hour solo, and I’ve lost the tape anyway, but there was something there… a single note or a phrase maybe, something deep that spoke of the ephemeral nature of music and art and beauty and even life itself when you get right down to it. Life’s fleeting moments, experience and wisdom, gathered into song and then blown out on the wind like smoke in the air, flames on a mountaintop, those “headless horsemen vanishing with wild and lonely cries.” All that in one little bit of music that called us across the country to hear something glorious that was itself fading into darkness.

ACL Fest 2013 – Day 3

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Beautiful sunny mild October day in Zilker Park. Noah & the Whale, Grouplove, Franz Ferdinand, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Divine Fits, The National

ACL Fest 2013 – Day 2

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Ahhh, cold front. What a beautiful day for Delta Rae, Silversun Pickups, The Joy Formidable, Wilco, and The Cure.

ACL Fest 2013 – Day 1

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Fun., Okkervil River, Vampire Weekend, Kaskade, Depeche Mode

ACL Fest 2011

I usually write about ACL Fest on this blog if only so that years later I can provide definitive answers to such questions as “Hey, did we see Allison Krause a few years ago?” by saying, “Why, let me consult the blog.” The answer is that we did see Allison Krause along with Robert Plant back in 2007. And we saw her again, though this time with Union Station on Saturday of last month’s fest.

It was a different kind of year this time around what with a baby and all. We didn’t bring him, but our festival time was dictated by the availability of grandparents to babysit and so, we made it down for only a few acts this year. On Saturday, we saw Allison Krause and Union Station (but you already know that), Gillian Welch (who according to the blog, we caught back in 2009) and my favorite from this year, TV on the Radio.

I first really listened to TV on the Radio this summer and really liked what I heard (their album, To Science). They struck me as a warmer, slightly funkier, Radiohead. Their show did not disappoint. In fact, I consider them the revelation for this year.

Between TV on the Radio and Stevie Wonder, we got a message that a dear friend had died much much too young. We hung around for Stevie Wonder (and probably would have left had it been anyone else) but the wind was blowing Stevie’s music away toward the city and My Morning Jacket was drowning him out from our place in the back. We could just make out “Higher Ground” as we quietly left Zilker Park.

We had no agenda for Sunday. We caught a few bands we hadn’t heard before and came home.

This year’s ACL was good, the weather was okay. No points for endurance as in 2005 or 2009. It wasn’t as good as 2010 (the best one ever), but it was good. Solid good. And that’s fine with me. Next year it will be in mid-October again, and we’re hoping we can bring the little guy along for at least some of the festival.

Maiden & Priest

The night before our son was born, we were flipping through channels and caught a few minutes of the Iron Maiden documentary/concert film Flight 666. I used to love Maiden back in my metallic youth; in fact, the only thing I might have liked more was Judas Priest. I remember riding the bus to school in junior high swapping tapes with friends and discussing the relative merits of Priest classics British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith along with Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. We also liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and even though we agreed the Priest could totally kick Jackson’s ass, we decided that Thriller was still pretty awesome in its own spooky right.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot or perhaps outgrew this music. Maybe it was the fact that the trappings of metal grew so cheesy and convoluted and dependent on hair (thanks, Poison and Ratt) that it just became an embarrassment. I moved on to punk and hardcore and never looked back, which is kind of a shame because when I downloaded and listened to Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and Priest’s “Freewheel Burning,” I couldn’t believe how much I still liked these tunes. My god how these guys rocked, I thought, and then immediately started downloading old favorites from those albums mentioned above.

Amazing how music transports… Suddenly I remember those junior high years and the long bus ride from our little town up the coast from Naples to the DOD high school on the base. Listening to it again, the sheer intesity and power of the playing is something to behold, especially when Judas Priest starts shredding on “Freewheel Burning” or the raw speed of “Exciter” and “Rapid Fire” or Maiden’s manic “Aces High.” Sometimes the bus ride didn’t seem long at all.

I remember the anticipation we all felt for Iron Maiden’s forthcoming Powerslave. Even after it was out, you couldn’t find it at the base PX. Which is why when we took a family trip up to the UK, the main thing I wanted was to get my hands on Powerslave. I lived inside my headphones much of the way back to Naples on the train, Europe racing along outside the windows to the power and intensity of such classics as “Aces High,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and my introduction to Coleridge through their epic retelling of his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Amazing stuff, and I think I was one of the first kids at Naples American High School to have Powerslave, which certainly didn’t hurt my all-important-for-an-8th-grader cool quotient.

Maiden’s lyrics always hooked me. This was a band of readers and history buffs whose interests in science fiction and classic poetry came out in their music. They sounded like nerds who had become cool and that appealed to a kid like me. With Judas Priest, though, the lyrics were almost irrelevant. It was the ax work, the blistering solos and shredding and the operatic glory of Rob Halford’s voice. I thought about Maiden and I felt Priest.

Now, decades later, I find that I still really like this stuff. I’m downloading and relistening, rediscovering these gems from my past. I doubt I’ll venture much further back into metal than these two bands, but I’m not sure I would need to. In my spare moments, I get my rock on and that’s probably the answer to the question of new-parent exhaustion: lots of coffee, some Maiden and a little Priest. And Coltrane too, of course, because the ’61 Vanguard recordings… well that would be a whole other post.

Building a Better Ax

I get antsy if too much time goes by, and I haven’t made anything tangible. Whether it’s framing a print, making a chapbook or making a guitar, I find I just need to do these things. It’s like exercise for me. If I don’t do it, I slip into a dark funk. I suppose making useful objects is intrinsic to being human and for a long time, it was considered the very thing that separated us from the apes (until, of course, we learned that apes and even some birds also make tools). But, to my knowledge, no other animal makes guitars.

The cigar box guitar I made back in August was the most exciting thing I made last year. Perhaps because in doing so I learned so much about how stringed instruments work, but mainly because I made a thing that worked and did a good job of doing what it was made for. That is an exciting thing.

When my dad saw it, he asked if I’d make him one. I thought it might be a good Christmas present and so the week before Christmas, I set out on my second cigar box guitar build determined to learn from the mistakes I’d made on the first one.

The biggest flaw in my first guitar was that the scale length (distance between bridge and nut) was about 2 inches too long. This made it impossible to string it with acoustic strings because the tension added by those extra 2 inches was more than the acoustic strings could stand. I had to use electric strings on mine and while it works, it just doesn’t sound as nice. So I cut my dad’s guitar to a more reasonable 25.5 inches or so, which allowed me to string it up with light gauge acoustic strings.

Other than that, I did pretty much everything else the same; although, I did use a much nicer cigar box. It’s thicker and made of a more resonant sounding wood. I discovered the differences in wood sounds while sitting in the humidor of a nearby cigar bar thumping on empty boxes. This one sounded sweeter and richer somehow so I bought a few of the same brand and wasn’t disappointed.

I didn’t wire it since my dad doesn’t have an amp so that made it simpler than what I did last summer, and I didn’t fret it because, again, it seemed like a lot of chances to ruin the neck and anyway, I like the fretless feel of it especially when playing with a slide.

It was easier to make this one because I knew the tools and the process and didn’t have to rely on trial and error as I did last summer. It was also not 103F in the shade either. That helped a lot.

In the end, I was quite pleased with how it came out. I still don’t have the carpentry chops to make things that look really artful, but it works, it’s playable and it sounds pretty good, I think.

Have a listen:

 

ACL Fest 2010

Sonic Youth on the Honda Stage at ACL 2010

Another year, another Austin City Limits Music Festival, but this year’s ACL Fest was probably my favorite. A large part of that was the weather, which was October gorgeous. Warm, but mild days with cool nights. Fall is one of the reasons I live here. The ragweed was a problem for me, but that was far better than the year of dust, the year of extreme heat, or the year of mud. For once, the festival didn’t require any real feats of endurance and that made for a great weekend.

We arrived in the afternoon on Friday and saw a little bit each of Beach House and Spoon, but the next two bands were, for me anyway, the highlight of the festival: Sonic Youth and Phish.

SY's Kim Gordon & Thurston Moore

Sonic Youth is my favorite band. I’ve seen them a number of times and Daydream Nation is my favorite album. Needless to say, I was thrilled to see them on such a glorious day. Their set was largely material from their recent album The Eternal, which hadn’t really grabbed me until I heard them play from it on Friday. I kept thinking, my god, this is good stuff, so I’ll certainly be giving that record a more careful listen. The highlight of the set was the two closing numbers, both from Daydream Nation: “The Sprawl” and “’Cross the Breeze,” the latter being my favorite SY tune.

Sonic Youth is one of those bands whose music requires careful attention, especially when they tear away from what most folks call music and venture into those dissonant soundscapes where chaos sounds so savagely beautiful and fearsome. These are moments when time can stop and the music truly transports me. Then the noise begins to coalesce and it seems as if I’m waking up inside a song, the one we left, but different now. Changed the way maps look different after you’ve explored the ground they represent. Listening to Sonic Youth is to remember that anything is possible and worth risking when it comes to art. It is freedom and energy and life played loud.

Sonic Youth

As if Sonic Youth wasn’t enough, just as their set ended Phish was getting started over on the other side of the park. We hustled over and were treated to the kind of show where it’s impossible not to dance. We used to see Phish every time they came through Austin back in the ‘90s, but it’s been at least ten years since they’ve been here, and I’d almost forgotten just how much fun a Phish show is. The played some of their classics (“Chalkdust Torture” and “You Enjoy Myself”) , “Backwards Down the Number Line” from Joy and some crowd-pleasing covers of Talking Heads and Velvet Underground tunes as well as a wonderfully funky “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” also known as the 2001 theme. After Phish, we called it a day.

At LCD Sound System

Saturday we went down late as my allergies were really doing a number on me. The highlights for us were Silversun Pickups, a band we caught back in 2008. I really liked them then and they were even better this time out, especially since I’ve gotten to know their music over the past few years. After Silversun Pickups, we heard a little bit of The XX and then LCD Sound System came on and played an electrifying set as night settled over the park. We went home shortly after that, having decided that this was already the best ACL Fest ever (and I’ve been to all but the first one).

At Silversun Pickups

We went down late again on Sunday, which was for our group the least interesting day. The only must-see for us was The Flaming Lips. This was the first time I’ve seen them play, and it was a fun show, the band reveling in its weirdness, perhaps at the expense of the music, but it was still fun. Singer Wayne Coyne came out and rolled over the audience inside a giant beach ball during the intro. He sang one song while sitting on the shoulders of a guy in a bear suit. There were sing-a-longs and audience participation. The highlight, though, was the closer, a wonderful rendition of their song “Do You Realize” which opened the song up, expanding it and letting it fly, making it all the more moving and celebratory. As the song says, “happiness makes you cry,” and I’d say it could have possibly moved me to tears it was so good except the ragweed had already done that.

Sunset on The Flaming Lips

After the Lips finished, we turned our chairs to the Honda Stage to watch The National. They didn’t play the one song of theirs that I know (“Lemonworld”) but I enjoyed their set anyway. When they finished, we could hear The Eagles on the big stage across the park. I was torn about this. Our friends had an early flight back to St Louis, R and I had to work in the morning, and my allergies were shutting down my nose again. But it’s the Eagles. So we listened to a few tunes. “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Hotel California,” “Witchy Woman.” They sounded great and as a festival closer, they were a good choice, though I still say, Austin City Limits needs to get ZZ Top in here one year to close this thing down.

This was my eighth ACL Fest and it was probably my favorite. The weather was the best it has ever been, and Sonic Youth, Phish, Silversun Pickups and LCD Sound System were all phenomenal. Did I say the weather was amazing? It’s a shame they scheduled it for September next year. Oh, well, I’ll be there. It’s too good a weekend to pass up.

The Eagles from the Far Side of Zilker

Here are some links to other bloggers’ takes on ACL 2010: In Between and Chickster.

James Dream of the Olympus Mons

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Olympus Mons (courtesy NASA via wikipedia)

Yesterday, I wrote about the music I’ve been listening to while I work on my science fiction novel and music—a song anyway—is the inspiration for the setting, at least for now. It’s set on Mars at a research station near Olympus Mons, the massive shield volcano at the edge of the Tharsis region.

According to Wikipedia, Olympus Mons stands over 16 miles above the Martian surface and is 342 miles wide, about the size of the state of Missouri.

I don’t know if I’ll keep that site in the final draft, but the choice was inspired by the Pixies tune “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons,” one of my all-time favorite Pixies songs. Okay, all Pixies songs are pretty much my all-time favorite Pixies songs, but really, I mean a song about a bird dreaming of flying around on another planet?

Did they write the song just for me?

Have a listen.

Austin City Limits Music Festival – 2009

ACL Fest 2009 - Livestrong Stage

The pictures are all from Friday evening and came off my iphone, so make of them what you will.

Friday – The Perfect Day

This was my 7th ACL Fest, which means I have spent 21 days at ACL Fest, and in all those days, last Friday was hands-down, the nicest day ever. We arrived around 2:00 to catch Medeski, Martin and Wood, and we were immediately thrilled by the sight of the gorgeous new lawn, all soft and green under our feet.

After some meat pies from Boomerang’s, we heard MMW’s set, which was as good as I had hoped it would be. That was the 2nd time I’ve seen them at ACL, and it was cool to see they warranted a larger stage this time out. After that, we headed over to see The Walkmen, who were good and then Phoenix, a band I really enjoyed. It was the largest crowd they’d ever played for, and the singer was very appreciative of the audience’s enthusiasm.

Afterwards, we were stopped in our tracks by Bassnectar opening with Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days (I’m Going to Cut You Into Little Pieces)” and stayed for a bit of his set. After that I caught a few songs of Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3’s before heading over to Thievery Corporation, which was the high point for Friday.

Post-Thievery, we caught the end of Them Crooked Vultures hard-rockin’ set before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came on. I thoroughly enjoyed the Yeah Yeah Yeahs dramatic set and consider them the big discovery (for me) of ACL 09.

ACL Fest 2009 - Sunset 1

Saturday – The Day of Rain

Yup. It rained. It hasn’t rained at ACL Fest since 2003, and it wasn’t bad. I don’t mind standing out in the rain anyway as long as I’ve got my poncho. We arrived in time for Citizen Cope, who I liked, but when we went to the other side to see …and You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, I caught the end of Flogging Molly, a Pogues-ish Irish folk punk band, I wished I had come over earlier.

I was excited to see Trail of Dead as this is a legendary local band whose CDs I have and whose live show I’d never seen. They rocked as I hoped they would. Next up was Mos Def who came on half an hour late, but still put on a terrific show, rapping from behind a drum kit. The set culminated with some break dancing on the edge of the wet stage.

After Mos Def, the rain started coming even harder, triggering an exodus from Zilker Park. It let up shortly thereafter, a good thing since Sound Tribe Sector 9 turned out to be so good, jamming from the very back of a soggy stage so as to avoid electrocution.  They were as good and electrifying as I remembered them from a few years ago, though with a little less funk and a little more hard-edged jazztronica along the lines of Particle. This is a good thing.

By the time Ghostland Observatory started, we had had as much rain as we could stand. We stuck around for a few tunes underneath the twisting Lasers, but left long before the Longhorn Band joined them onstage and went home where chili had been simmering in the crock pot all day long.

There is absolutely nothing in the world to make standing in the rain all day worthwhile like a few hot bowls of fresh homemade chili.

ACL Fest 2009 - Fish Flag

Sunday – The Day of Mud

I guess we were lucky. All the shows we intended to see were on the hill where there was still grass that hadn’t been tromped down to mud by the combination of 65,000 people and steady rain.

When we arrived on Sunday afternoon in time for the B-52’s, the weather was pleasant if a bit humid, but not enough to get in the way of enjoying the B-52’s who rocked their set and closed with a “Love Shack,” “Planet Claire,” and “Rock Lobster” trifecta.

I could have gone home after that, but we turned our chairs to the XBOX stage to listen to White Lies after which we turned the chairs again for Arctic Monkeys and then one more time for Passion Pit. All three of those bands were new to me and enjoyed them all, especially White Lies.

By now, it was time to go to the lower part of the park for Jack White’s latest project The Dead Weather. That’s when we saw the mud and, good lord, it looked awful. The lovely green beautiful grass from Friday was covered in an oozing sea of mud. Rather than venture out over that expanse we parked ourselves under a tree with some grass and listened to The Dead Weather from all the way back there. They were loud enough to hear. I enjoyed their heavy blues sound, and decided that The Dead Weather is probably my favorite of the various Jack White projects.

Being neither fans of mud nor Pearl Jam we left and called it a year.

On balance, this was probably once of my favorite ACL years. Weather-wise, I’ll take mud and rain any day over heat and dust. As to the music, once Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys dropped out of the lineup, there wasn’t anything I was dying to see, which made it easy to just enjoy whatever was happening while discovering new things.

My favorites for the year? Thievery Corporation, The B-52’s, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, STS9.

There’s been a lot of griping about the mud and ruined grass and how long that part of Zilker Park will be closed for repairs to the lawn, but it will get repaired and the ACL Fest sponsors have said they will cover it. Had it not rained, the grass would have withstood the weekend. As it is, it’s probably still alive under that mud and soon The Great Lawn will look as gorgeous as it did on Friday.

ACL Fest 2009 - Sunset 2

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