Monday, January 27, 2020

Housekeeping and Coming Attractions

So I mentioned near the end of last year that I wasn't sure where I was going with this blog in 2020. I don't expect to be attending as many live shows this year as I did in the last two years, and I don't expect to be attending live shows in Manhattan anytime in the foreseeable future. I asked Denise if she was interested in pitching in a write-up once in awhile, as she has no plans to slow down her concert schedule. But Denise is much less of a wrestling villain than I am (as this blog is known for being a tad ... cranky, shall we say?), so she decided she wasn't interested. (Maybe I can get her to give me some verbal reviews that I can summarize for you, though, especially of her '80s Cruise in March.)

And honestly, it's not just here in this blog, or in the general area of music, I've been making changes. In the past, I used to love going to the movies, and used to attend at least 11 or 12 films in the theaters each year. Last year, the only film I saw all year in the theaters was Avengers: Endgame. Part of it is that now that the kids are grown up, they don't need Denise or me to take them when they want to go to the movies. Part of it is also simply ticket prices. Going to see a film in a theater is just a much more expensive proposition than it used to be. (Although it is kind of nice that I've reached the point where most theaters will give me a senior citizen discount.)

But just like in music, part of it is also politics. We live in a time when politics seems to work its way into every single aspects of our lives, and I'm just not interested. You can make any kind of film you want, but don't expect me to pay for the privilege of having a bunch of politics and/or modern cultural mores shoved in my face. So I anticipate continuing to be much more picky than I used to be as to where and when I spend my cinema bucks.

TV is the same. It'a all about the message. My message is no thanks. (It's actually a little more explicit than that, but let's keep this column family friendly.) And don't even get me started on team sports. At this point, I'm down to watching baseball and hockey (and I'm eyeing them both suspiciously in case they get out of line.)

So if I'm attending fewer live concerts and fewer films, and watching less TV and sports, what am I going to do with my time? Good question.

The answer I've come up with is try to use it more wisely on a number of things. I've been enjoying my family time more. And since my daughter and her boyfriend moved in, I've had one more family member in her boyfriend to spend time with. (About a year or so ago, when I was trying to socialize with my daughter a little, my little hermit exclaimed in frustration, "Will you do me a favor and adopt another kid so you'll leave me alone!?" I think that's why she's moved the boyfriend in -- he likes to chat with me more than either she or her brother do.)

I'm also reading more fiction, especially science fiction. I've finally gotten around to William Gibson's Neuromancer, and I've got a couple of Robert Heinlein books on my list as well.

I've recently also gone back to an old love, professional wrestling. I don't know how long it will last -- I tend to watch in cycles for a year or two and then lose interest. But ever since they've formed the new AEW promotion to compete with Vince McMahon's WWE, I've been watching them on a weekly basis. And last week, they managed to combine three of my favorite things by holding the show on a cruise ship, and giving a little promotion to their champion, Chris Jericho's, rock band Fozzy, so you had rock, wrestling and cruises all together in one package -- now that's entertainment!

But this is a music column, so let me bring the focus back to music. I still expect to be listening to a ton of new LPs, and working my through the back catalogs of some of the more enjoyable artists I've discovered over the last few years, bands like Nightwish and Mostly Autumn.

And I've been wanting to educate myself more about certain musical genres I haven't paid much attention to in the past. Believe it or not, I've considered hip hop. And this will probably happen some, as my daughter's boyfriend is passionate about this genre and seems inclined to want to teach me about it. (I'm interested because it's really become the music of this generation, but I'm also resistant because I just don't identify with "gangsta" culture at all.)

But the genre I'm really leaning towards right now is metal, with a specific focus on progressive and/or symphonic metal. This has a lot to do with Nightwish. As you know, I named their most recent album, 2015's Endless Forms Most Beautiful, as my Album of the Decade for the 2010's. I also recently listened to their 2011 LP Imaginaerum, and really just enjoyed the hell out of it, as well. And with Nightwish scheduled to come out with a new album this April, Human. :II: Nature. (I know, pretentious title), I expect to be focusing significant attention on them this year, and starting to explore other somewhat similar bands, such as Epica, Leaves' Eyes and Midnattsol. (I'm super excited about the new Nightwish LP. Unfortunately, I see that they're spending the entire year touring Europe, so they probably won't hit North America again until 2021. And when they do, I have a bad feeling they'll be playing Manhattan and not Long Island, so I don't know if I'll get to see them anyway.)

But it's not just this sub-genre of metal I'm interested in. I never got that into classic metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax, because I never found their songs that interesting. And I never much liked the typical vocals you'd hear in most metal bands, either the high-pitched, shrieky vocals you hear in bands like Virgin Steele or the growling, so-called "dirty" vocals you hear in bands like Slipknot. (I always felt like I was listening to Orc music.)

But in 2019, I heard a number of metal bands in various sub-genres whose music really intrigued me. These included Soen, a Swedish progressive metal band whose song "Martyrs" made my yearly Top 20 list; Saor, a Scottish black metal band, whose music includes some Celtic influences; Batushka, a doom metal band from Poland, whose members dress (and sing) like eastern orthodox priests; and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, a Welsh sludge metal band whose album was up in my Top 10 for the better part of the year. I'm also finally ready to check out the Italian gothic metal band Lacuna Coil, and although I don't know how "metal" I consider them, I'm going to go back and give the latest Tool album a listen as well. (I note that out of all of the bands I mentioned, Tool is the only American one. It seems that most of the style of metal I'm interested in is only being created in Europe.)

I'll still be listening to a lot of alternative rock, of course, as well as all of the genres I usually listen to (prog rock, folk and folk rock, Celtic and Celtic rock, etc.). But I think I'll be spending a decent part of the next 4 or 5 years exploring more of these areas of metal that have recently caught my interest.

I might also, for financial reasons as much as anything else, be exploring more local music shows this year than I have in the recent past (especially as I'm not particularly impressed with what I see of the national summer concert schedule so far this year.) That's just become a little harder for me than it used to be because I need to find venues that are comfortable for me. However, the Braceland Gallery is a good start.

It seems strange to say, but assuming I make it through this upcoming decade alive and intact, by 2030, I'll be 72. My body sometimes feels old, but my mind doesn't at all. But I can tell you that as long as I'm still walking this earth, music will continue to be an important part of my life. (Unless the zombie apocalypse finally comes, of course. Then I'll probably be spending most of my time trying not to get eaten.)

So I guess that gives you (and me) a little bit of an idea as to what to expect coming up in this blog for the next year or so, anyway.

I'm hoping to make it to the Cassandra House show (with Sophie Buskin opening) this Thursday at the Patchogue Theatre's Loading Dock. Unfortunately, I popped by there Saturday and discovered it's sold out. (So kudos to House, Buskin and The Loading Dock). I've reached out to Ms. House and to the Patchogue Theatre to see if I can either can on a guest list or get a press pass, but unless I hear back from one of them, I'm gonna have to deep six that plan. (I would have bought a ticket earlier, but as my car drives pretty poorly in the snow, I sometimes like to wait until the week of a show between January and March to get some sense of what the weather is supposed to be like.)

But I do have a ticket for Cherish the Ladies at the Patchogue Theatre in March. And I'm also hoping to catch Leslie Mendelson at My Father's Place on April 11.

I'll also be keeping my eye on the local theater companies to hopefully cover some musical theater for you this year. I'm toying with the idea of catching the Argyle Theater's production of Caberet in early-to-mid March. And I'll be keeping my eye out for when the Gateway Theater releases their summer schedule, hopefully sometime soon.

Anyway, that should give you an idea of what to look forward to on this blog in the months to come. So stay safe and warm, people. And let the music flow.


Saturday, January 25, 2020

China Crisis

A few weeks ago, I learned that China Crisis was playing a show at one of my favorite venues, The Boulton Center in Bay Shore. They were around the area last year (or late in 2018), playing at My Father's Place in Roslyn, and Denise had expressed interest in seeing them. We were away that day, though, or we had another commitment, so we didn't go. This time, when I let her know they were coming to Long Island again, she asked me if I'd like to see them.

Now I don't remember this band at all from the eighties. So I looked up their best known songs and went up on YouTube to give them a listen, figuring I'd find one or two familiar ones where I'd go, "Oh! So that was China Crisis." I listened to maybe five songs, but much to my amazement, zip, zilch, nada. I didn't recognize one of them. I liked their sound, however, so I told Denise I was in. I figured I'd just pretend they were a new band I'd never heard of. (I feel a little bad that we haven't been going to as many shows together since I hit live-show overload at that Bastille concert last year and decided to "boycott" Manhattan.)

This last week was pretty laid back. I had a bunch of work to catch up on, since we had the kids upstate last weekend to visit with their siblings and aunt and uncle, but I managed to hack my way through it in a couple of days.

But ss the show drew closer, I got a little dubious about whether it was going to actually take place. When I had first looked at tickets a few weeks ago, not many had been sold. And although it was still listed on the Boulton Center's web page, when I went up on China Crisis's Facebook page, it was nowhere to be found (nor was it listed on Setlist.fm.) I was a little on pins and needles all week waiting to see if the performance would happen, but as time wore on and we didn't hear about any cancellation, I figured we'd just assume the show was still on. And thankfully, it was.

I was a little tired yesterday, since I woke up early to the sounds of noisy yard work. I was confused (and a little pissed) about this -- we do hire contractors to maintain the back yard, but that's during the warm months -- it's the friggin' end of January! And I couldn't figure out how they had flown their lawn mowers over my car, since I usually have to park on the other side of the driveway for them to get to the yard. But today, it turned out to be the neighbors' crew. (@^&*x!)

Anyway, I took a fairly light day, but I was a little draggy before the show from getting up early.

Denise and I left early, since we'd learned (from Denise getting stuck on the way home) that Sunrise Highway was all backed up. (We later found out that some poor 70-year-old guy got killed trying to cross the service road, and that was why the police had the eastbound side closed off.) But by the time we left, the westbound side had opened up, so we were at the Boulton Center with time to spare.

When we walked in, we ran into John and Joni Blenn, and we chatted with them about various things (including the death of Terry Jones, the current status of Leslie West, and the mysterious disappearance of local songstress Kathy Fleischmann. Fleischmann, if you're out there somewhere, check in and say hi. The whole local music community misses you.) We also ran into Tina and Cindy from Denise's WLIR Facebook group (who had scored first row seats. Nice job!)

We bought a couple of waters and a pretzel and went inside, only to discover that Denise had accidentally bought us what I consider the best seats in the house (and the ones I'm going to try to buy from now on.) They were on the right aisle in Row E, which is the first row after a section break, so there's nothing but open space in front of you. (Talk about leg room! I was in heaven.) My seat felt a little tight (which I attribute to too much McDonald's over the last two weeks), but other than that, I was as comfy as could be. (I know that some of you read these write-ups to see how cranky I was feeling at a given show, but I think I'm gonna disappoint you for this one.)

Denise's friend Mary from the WLIR group saw us and said hello on the way in, and we briefly chatted about eighties music and adoption before the flickering lights let us know the show was about to start.

China Crisis came out as a 4-piece, which included original members Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon, plus a young fellow on keyboards and a sax player. (Unfortunately, I didn't write their names down, and they're not listed on either the band's Facebook page or their Wikipedia page.)

Daly and Lundon are a nice pair of Liverpudlian (or thereabouts) working class gents, both from large families, who seem to have made a nice little career for themselves. (I was going to call them a couple of old coots, but Wikipedia lists them both as having been born in 1962, which makes them both five years younger than me. So let's go with "strapping young lads".)

Daly came out looking a little like Mitch McConnell, but in a yellow-checkered glee club jacket, a black T-Shirt and pink tennis sneakers. (Or if you hate McConnell, substitute the guy from the first X-Men movie who gets turned into white goop and swooshes away all over Jean Grey's floor.) Lundon is his shorter, quieter sidekick, who laughs a lot, but proved he can curse pretty good too after he accidentally dropped his guitar following the seventh song.)

They're an affable pair, and Daly entertained at great length between numbers, with colorful stories about their parents' support for them being in a band (or lack thereof), sneaking into a show to see Thin Lizzy, making their first American tour opening for Simple Minds, and working with Steely Dan's Walter Becker. (And if you've ever listened to The Beatles talk, you know that everything is better when told with a Liverpudlian accent.)

Now I had done my usual due diligence, looking up a setlist they had played at a show in Pawling last weekend. (And by the way, "Pawling" is apparently going to be the name of my first future grandchild. My daughter likes to amuse herself on road trips by assigning her future children the names of the various exits on whatever thoroughfare we happen to be traveling on. Thanks to our trip to Florida a few years ago, I'm the proud future grandfather of a boy named "Okeechobee".)

I'd also printed this setlist out to bring to the show, and had familiarized myself with the band's music by making a YouTube playlist based on the Pawling show. But I had also noticed when I was up on setlist.fm that they like to mix it up a lot, and rarely do the same show two nights in a row. So I wasn't shocked when I found that my setlist was already out of whack by the first song.

Anyway, here's what I want to tell you about the show and the band:

1. China Crisis's music is very enjoyable. I'd describe their music as very chill eighties dance pop, most of which would be completely at home in a John Hughes movie. (Denise actually thought they did have a track on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack LP, but I looked it up and that seems not to have been the case.)

2. Their sound mixes simple, understated synthesizer, strummed guitar and tasteful, laid back sax. They accurately described some of their earlier songs as sounding vaguely Asian, thanks to what they call their "plinky plunky piano").

3. Besides Simple Minds, they mentioned having opened for such acts as The Police, David Bowie, Santana and Eurythmics, to name a few. Santana seems a little weird to me, but all of the others make perfect sense musically.

4. They talked about being influenced by people like Bowie, Brian Eno and Stevie Wonder, and also by contemporaries such as Human League and OMD, again, all of which made perfect sense.

5. I also heard musical echoes, in different songs, of artists such as The Cure ("Bigger the Punch I'm Feeling"), Martha and the Muffins ("Tragedy and Mystery"), and even Kenny G (who we all learned in South Park kisses just like Mr. Garrison's father)("Fool").

6. Daly handles the majority of the lead vocals with Lundon and the others providing backing harmonies. But Lundon did take the lead on two songs later in the evening ("Hands on the Wheel" and "Fool").

7. They really focus on slow-to-mid-tempo songs. The only remotely fast song they did all night was "King in a Catholic Style"; and

8. I suspect that this is why I was unfamiliar with them before. Much of their music, especially the earlier stuff, would have been perfect club music for when the DJ wanted to give couples a slow, romantic song to do some close dancing to. Denise was a club kid, and would have heard their stuff when she was out dancing. I had two left feet, and wouldn't have.

9. Some of my favorite songs going in (based on that YouTube playlist) included "Black Man Ray", "African and White" (which has been replaying in my head since the show last night), "Wishful Thinking" (which was their biggest hit in the UK) and "Working With Fire and Steel" (which was their biggest hit in the U.S., but which they surprisingly skipped for last night's show). Denise's favorite is "Arizona Sky". However;

10. I also found during the show that I particularly enjoyed "Here Comes a Raincloud", which they had played in Pawling, and "Autumn in the Neighborhood", which they hadn't. In all, they played a set that was two songs longer than the one they had performed in Pawling. So bite us, you Pawling punks! Ha ha ha ha ha!

In spite of the lack of promotion on the band's website, in the end, the auditorium wound up being about two thirds full, which the band seemed fairly pleased with. The audience was a bit more ... shall we say, interactive? ... than I'd have preferred, probably because Daly did so much talking between songs (at least in the first half of the show, until he realized it was almost 10 0'clock, and they still had a bunch more songs to get to.) And this time it was the ladies making most of the noise. (Oh, those eighties gals. So wild! So unpredictable!)

Anyway, I really didn't hear anything from the band that I didn't like. I enjoyed the show even more than I expected to, and I expected to enjoy it from the start. The full setlist can be found at https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/china-crisis/2020/boulton-center-for-the-performing-arts-bay-shore-ny-4b98affa.html. (I usually like to make wacky names for these links, but then I learned that when Denise copies the reviews to her Facebook group, the links don't work right, so we'll stick to the actual link just this once.)

I'm hoping to give you another concert write-up next week, but there's been a snag in that plan that I'm trying to work out, so we'll have to see how it goes. Be well, my peeps!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Top 30 Songs of the 2010s, Part 3

OK, let's just go ahead and shock this monkey while I've still got some momentum. So remember how when I got to Candy Hearts, I mentioned that it wouldn't be the only case of bands having two songs on this list back-to-back? Bayside, anyone? (Don't mind if I do).


10. Bayside - "Mary"

From the band's fine Vacancy album. I'm not sure who Mary was, other than a friend who just might have been a house-bound shut-in (a goal I'm getting closer and closer to achieving for myself), but our good friend Mr. Raneri made a great song out of her. Mary kind of reminds me of a friend of mine. I suspect she deserved better (out of life, not out of the song).


9. Metal Mother - "Prism"

A great track by a virtually unknown band from L.A. I have to credit my old friends at WUSB for turning me on to this one. I don't remember whose show I heard it on, but I doubt I would ever have been aware of it otherwise. It's a mid-tempo electronic rock ballad with a fine female lead vocal.


8. Eisley - "A Song for the Birds"

Overall I didn't love the 2017 I'm Only Dreaming album as much as previous Eisley LPs. I really missed sisters Chauntelle and Stacy backing Sherri DuPree up on vocals. Having said that, though, when Sherri and husband Max Bemis work together there is a magic that happens. (Check out their side project Perma if you don't believe me). And this is just a great, nicely structured pop rock song.


7. 888 - "Critical Mistakes"

888 is an alternative electro band from Denver, CO. This is a terrific track about regretting the bigger things you messed up on in life. (And the video, which the band collaborated on with The Forgiveness Project, a UK-based charity group focused on forgiveness and alternatives to revenge, is an emotional gut punch. Forgiveness is a theme that will be touched on again in my #1 song.)


6. The Decemberists - "Make You Better"

This is probably the best track The Decemberists have ever released. It's a slow, slightly creepy, love song full of emptiness and yearning. Kudos to these guys for being the third band to have two entries on this list.


5. Bad Lip Reading - "Carl Poppa"

What can you say about a decade where my fifth favorite song is by an anonymous Los Angeles producer who puts together video clips on YouTube that make fun of popular films, television shows, political figures and athletes by doing hilariously incorrect lip reads. This song features Carl Grimes of The Walking Dead and a host of singing zombies rapping to ridiculous effect. It's surprisingly catchy. Because he flows! La Jiggy Jar Jar Doo!


4. Jeremy Gilchrist - "Letter From the 21st"

This track is a musical love letter by Gilchrist, an anti-folker who has lived all up and down the East Coast of the U.S., to the next century, where he sends his well wishes that they do things better than we did. It's a quiet and beautiful song.


3. Gary Numan - "My Name Is Ruin"

Gary Numan, the man who is best known for the eighties hit "Cars", has taken to making very Trent-Reznor-influenced industrial rock these days. The little girl with the big voice singing backup on this track is his (then) 11-year-old daughter Persia. This song was a bit of an eye opener to me, as I never realized Numan was capable of making this kind of music.


2. Nightwish - "The Greatest Show On Earth"

This 24-minute track is probably the most exciting piece of music I've heard in decades. It hearkens back to the great extended progressive rock classics of the seventies, such as "Thick As a Brick", or "Close to the Edge". It combines metal, goth, uilleann pipes and operatic female vocals. Lead singer Floor Jensen is magnificent here in her first LP as the lead singer of this much-respected Finnish symphonic metal band. Watch one of the live videos of this one to get some sense of the elation of the crowd hearing this performed in person, and then for bonus points, watch the cover version put together by a twenty-something woman named Fernanda Alba that brings together young musicians from all over the globe to collaborate on a song that they obviously all adore.


1. Antigone Rising - "My Town"

Nothing could have beat out the drama of Nightwish track above except for the simple sincerity and beauty of this country-rock track. I like songs about how much life sucks as much as anyone, but this is about how it doesn't have to suck when people get it right. ("In my town/We give second chances/We're hopeless romantics like that"). I don't know if Sea Cliff, NY is really this idyllic, but I want to believe it is. The Henderson sisters have been making great music for decades now, and singer Nini Camps has taken their work to a whole other level. Bless them all for this treasure of a song. It is a fully worthy #1 Song of the Decade.


So that's my list. Hope you liked it. We did get a bit of a variety of genres here, which was nice. For a YouTube playlist, in reverse order, of all 30 songs, click on Long Island Music Guy Top 30 Songs of the 2010s.

See you soon.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Top 30 Songs of the 2010s, Part 2

Picking up where we left off:


20. The Decemberists - "Till the Water Is All Gone"

This is a nice, slow one. I'm not quite sure what it's about -- something about guarding a water supply, people who come down from the mountains, a long dead daughter, etc. You know. All the usual stuff you hear in Top radio.


19. Alvvays - "Plimsoll Punks"

So I blew it in 2018 when I named this my Top Song of the year, considering it was actually released in 2017. Oops! But I know that this time, I got the decade right. Anyway, this is a high-energy winner with by this Toronto indie pop band.


18. I Am the Avalanche - "Anna Lee"

This was the best track on this Long Island punk band's 2014 LP Wolverines. It features the charismatic, but gravel voiced, Vinnie Caruana singing a tribute to a fallen friend.


17. Coldplay - "A Sky Full of Stars"

Wikipedia refers to this as Coldplay's first dance track. I don't know about that. But it is a very upbeat, smile-inducing love song. Whenever I hear people say they hate Coldplay, I refer them to this song.


16. Deerheart - "Wolfman Moon"

You just can't beat a good song that goes "Ah-ooo!" Just ask Warren Zevon. This was a winning track from Long Islander Deerheart's excellent 2012 rock opera The Cordon Bleu Years.


15. Boheme - "Even the Mistakes"

Boheme was a musical project by former Antigone Rising lead singer Cassidy Catanzaro (aka Cassidy). This is a very upbeat and danceable track, which encourages you get out there and live your life, because "Even the mistakes are gonna be great!" Hmph! Tell that to the dead hooker in my trunk. (Disclaimer: What I said there was just a tasteless joke. Hookers are human beings who in no way, shape or form deserve to be murdered and stuffed into people's trunks. Politicians, on the other hand ... well, the less said the better.)


14. Twenty One Pilots - "Heathens"

This was the best song from the Suicide Squad soundtrack. It's one of those songs that starts out quietly and then just explodes into a wall of sound. (Spoiler: Then it gets quiet again.) The video is pretty good, too, and features plenty of Harley Quinn. I thought you'd want to know that.


13. Daft Punk - "Get Lucky"

This was pretty much the song of the summer for 2013. It features the French electronica robots of Daft Punk and American singer Pharrell Williams staying up all night in hopes of getting into some hot girl's pants. (This was before the #MeToo movement, kiddies.) It's totally one of those tracks that you've just got to move along with.


12. Sia - "My Love"

This song was actually my first exposure to Australian songstress Sia. It's a slow, dramatic track from the 2010 soundtrack for the Twilight series film Eclipse. It's a tribute from the protagonist/singer to her dead lover who seems to have been some kind of heroic rebel leader who taught her how to fight and be strong. I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff.


11. Bayside - "Sick, Sick, Sick"

This is one of Anthony Raneri's best bad relationship songs. He wrote it after divorcing his first wife, and it starts out with him cursing the magistrate who married them in the first place, so you know it's going to be good. Wikipedia used to say that his wife was a porn film actress, which fits in with the lyrics about her "sexcapades" delivering checks, but they've since scrubbed his page of that juicy bit of gossip. Regardless, this is one of those frenetic, angry Bayside tracks that was always destined to be a winner.


OK, we're the through the middle portion of out Top Songs of the 2010's list. And as great as these have been, the next list is the one you've been waiting for - my Top 10 Songs of the previous decade. Any guesses? (Hint: There's no Justin Bieber to be found. There is a rap song, though. Sort of. I'll let you mull that one over.) I'll be back in a day or so to remove the shroud of mystery, as it were. (Unless I get hauled to the hoosegow for that whole "hooker in the trunk" thing.)

Roger Silverberg

I got an email from Roger a couple of weeks ago telling me he was playing a return engagement at the Michael Braceland Art Gallery in Patchogue on Saturday, January 11. I enjoyed myself so much the last time that I immediately put it on my calendar. (As it turns out, this seems to be the best way to reach me. In spite of my best intentions, I wind up going to way more local music shows when either the artist or the venue has sent me an email, as opposed to me seeking out what's going on and when.)

The only fly in my ointment was I was supposed to do the Huntington run with my daughter twice on Saturday -- once to drop her off in the morning, and a second time to pick her up at the end of her shift,  as her boyfriend (who usually does the pickup) was going to be out of town that day with his Dad. This meant that 1. I wasn't sure what time she was getting off and if it would interfere with the start of the show, and 2. Would I still feel like going out after doing the damned Huntington round-trip twice in a day?

Consequently, I didn't contact anyone to go with me until the last minute. By the time I did, I discovered that both Todd Evans and Rich Da Drumma had previous commitments for Saturday. Todd did invite me out for Friday night to see Tom Cavanagh and Dee Harris at Bartini's. I haven't seen Tom (or Dee, for that matter) for years, and I'd love to catch up with them. But Denise was already going out on Friday night, and I had a couple of commitments at home. (This included feeding the kids, and cat-sitting. My daughter and son recently conned me into letting them bring another cat into the house. I was going to say no, but then they started talking about how they were still so sad and really missed Noodles, our recently deceased kitty, that I totally caved. So now, somebody has to be around all the time to monitor the war zone, as our two other cats continue to be wary of the new guy -- who's very lovable, but is a bit of a feline asshole -- and try to decide whether to accept him or kill him.)

Anyway, Denise was kind enough to step in and offer to do the Huntington pick-up Saturday night, which freed me up to go see Roger.

I had a pretty quiet day after the Huntington run in the morning. I proofread a home study for my job for most of the afternoon, and also really delved into the new Who album (which is a little hit-and-miss, but overall, sounds way better than a couple of seventy-plus year olds have any right to sound. (I'm particularly liking "Break the News" and "All This Music Must Fade", for those who like to play along at home.) Not a terrible way to spend the day.

I headed out at about 7:15 for a 7:30 show. (Why go all the way to the Patchogue Theater when I can get to the Braceland Gallery for a show in half the time, heh heh.)

As I entered, Roger was still setting up. As opposed to the last time I saw him, when he played with the full Roger Silverberg Trio, this time he and percussionist Steve Cafarelli were playing as a duo.

I checked out the gallery and chatted a little with its owner, Michael Braceland-Smith as Roger and Steve finished setting up. The performing area is small (even smaller than the one at the Pisces Cafe used to be), but it's stylish and comfortable (and there are no tables, as this is a byob kind of place). As you would expect, the walls are filled with the art works of both Michael himself and those of various guest artists. In the center of the wall behind the performing area was a beautiful wood piece that I really liked. For tonight's show, the back wall was full of art done by local musician Alan Semerdijian, who I didn't even know was a painter.

I'm going to keep the write-up of the actual show shorter than usual, for a couple of reasons, which are: 1. I just wrote about it when Roger performed at this venue back in August, and 2. Not only did I not bring a pen or a notepad with me, but I also inadvertently left my cell phone home. (When a venue is dark during a performance, I often use my old flip phone to take brief notes and text them to myself). This second thing turned out to be kind of a blessing. Sometimes I get so preoccupied with taking notes for a write-up that it takes me out of the show a little. Tonight, I was really able to just sit back and float along with the music.

This was a very different concert than Roger's last gig at this venue in terms of the material presented. He made a conscious decision to play a lot of stuff that he hadn't played the last time, and as someone who was at both shows, I really appreciated this. It would have been OK if he'd performed mostly the same stuff -- honestly, I left the house tonight expecting that he would. But the fact that he changed it up a lot really enhanced things from my point of view.

Roger and Steve divided the night into two sets. The first set mostly consisted of more upbeat material (and Roger performed most of his songs on guitar), while the second comprised mostly slower (and sadder) stuff, split about evenly between guitar and keyboard.

The two did a pair some nice covers last night, including Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat", and a particularly tasteful rendition of Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven". (They also closed out the evening with a third cover, which I have to admit I didn't recognize). Other nice choices included a song Roger had written in 1984 about the changes in New York, which subsequently became his de facto 9/11 song; "Another Man's Name", which was my favorite track off of his most recent The Old Dog album; "I Wait for April" (his opening number of the night), which was my favorite song off of his 2005 Sketches & Footprints EP; "Bird", the song he cites as his brother's favorite Roger Silverberg track; and "The Sound of Rain", one of his most beautiful numbers, and the song that probably garnered the most praise of the evening at his last Braceland Gallery performance. Steve also performed a very good song of his own, "Another Heartbreak Coming Down".

Overall, it was a laid back and very enjoyable night of music. The setting was perfect, the company was pleasant and the music was chill. As I listened, I was impressed once again by Roger's songwriting, as the thought presented itself to me: "Roger chooses really nice chords". If I was a musician, I could probably tell you about this in greater detail. But as a fan who is sadly a bit of a musical idiot in regard to song structure -- I know what I like, but I can't always describe why -- that's about the best I can do.

Anyway, the show ended at around 10PM, and after a quick stop at Mickey D's down the block for a pair of Egg McMuffins, I was home and in my recliner by 10:30. Not a bad night at all!

Roger's website is located at http://www.rogersilverberg.com/. The Facebook page for the Braceland gallery (which has a listing of upcoming events) is at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelBracelandArtGallery/.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Top 30 Songs of the 2010s, Part 1

So remember yesterday, when I told you that the reason I went with 30 songs for my Top Songs of the Decade list was because I came up with 32 songs and rounded down? Good times, good times. Except it turns out I was out of my mind. I got my songs list mixed up with my albums list, where I came up with 23 albums and rounded down.

In my defense, the reason this was so hazy to me is that I actually put most of this list together back in September during the infamous "I Was Kidnapped" Connecticut trip. (You've got to have something to occupy your mind on that ferry trip back and forth). I finalized the list sometime after that, but my point is that I basically compiled my two Best of the Decade lists a while ago, but I had to wait until I had finished my 2019 lists before posting them, since posting the Decade lists first would have spoiled the 2019 lists. And at this point in my life, I get confused about anything past yesterday. (And sometimes about yesterday, too. Also, today isn't all that clear either.)

OK, now that we've got that settled, a few things about this list. I basically put it together by going back to each of my yearly lists and re-listening to all of the songs at the top of each. I obviously like all of these songs a whole lot, but my top two songs  of the decade I particularly love.

What I'm going to do is this. I'll be giving you my Top 30 Songs of the 2010s in three parts, in reverse order (of course), broken down so that Part 1 will include #'s 30-21, Part 2 #'s 20-11, and Part 1 #'s 10-1. Rather than give you individual links to each song, at the end of the Part 1 list, I'll give you a link to a YouTube playlist that includes all 30 songs. Does that work for you? Good, good.

So let's go.


30. Snail Mail - "Pristine"

Snail Mail is actually 20-year-old indie folk rocker Lindsey Jordan of Maryland. The song is an oddly structured bit of lo-fi grrl rock. My daughter always makes fun of me for listening to so many albums of "chicks singing about their feelings." Guilty.


29. Dot Hacker - "Beseech"

Dot Hacker is an experimental alt rock band from Los Angeles. This track is kind of a slow-to-mid tempo burn with some interesting percussion and occasional pleasing psychedelic effects coming in after each verse.


28. Charly Bliss - "Hard to Believe"

I've been singing the praises of this energetic Brooklyn indie rock quartet and their Young Enough LP all year. This is a lively track about hanging onto a decaying relationship.


27. Blondie - "A Rose By Any Name"

Deborah Harry shares the vocals with Beth Ditto of Gossip on this ode to gender fluidity that was a few years ahead of its time.


26. Candy Hearts - "Top of Our Lungs"

I have a thing for bands with female vocalists in general, and bands with unusual-sounding female vocalists in particular. Candy Hearts (now known as Best Ex) is a good example of this. This one's about a night of drinking that turns into friends exchanging benefits.


25. Candy Hearts - "Lighter Than the Air"

Two Candy Hearts songs in a row! Imagine that. (This will happen with another band somewhere a little higher in the count later). Another relationship song that starts with the ups then gives us the downs. Love can be so disappointing.


24. Linkin Park - "One More Light"

This album got hammered by critics and fans alike, and rightly so. This is a great song, though. It's a slow ballad about a friend of the band who died of cancer and the importance of one person's life, made all the more poignant by singer Chester Bennington's subsequent suicide.


23. Leslie Mendelson - "Jericho"

I described this song in 2017 as a "wistful and touching folk ballad " that found Long Island songstress Mendelson trying to "find her way back home". At the time, for some reason, I thought she had moved to Los Angeles. I heard from her afterwards that she was still in New York, living in Brooklyn. Oopsie. So maybe I have no idea what the track is about. Regardless, it's still a song of quiet beauty.


22. Glenn Hansard - "Brother's Keeper"

Gruff-voiced Irishman Glenn Hansard is one-half of the writing team that created the TONY Award winning musical Once. This track starts out about a protective love between brothers, then seems to morph into a song about the love between lovers. I'm pretty sure it's pro the patriarchy, but he probably doesn't want you to know that.


21. Foals - "Sunday"

Foals is a British alternative rock band, and this was my favorite song of 2019. I especially identify with lyrics of the chorus: "Time away from me is what I need". I know what they mean.


OK, I think we're off to a good start here. I'll be back in a day or so with Part 2 of this list, as we continue counting off the top songs of the decade.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Top 20 Albums of the 2010s, Part 2

OK, let's just get right back into it.


10. Chvrches - Love Is Dead (2018)

This Scottish synthpop trio spent the better part of the decade building towards this LP, showing flashes of brilliance on 2013's The Bones of What You Believe and 2015's Every Open Eye. This one, though, is the one that brought it all together. It's a fully realized album from start to finish, which is why I picked it as my Top LP of 2018. Best tracks: "Grafitti", "Never Say Die".


9. Kesha - Animal (2010)

I don't listen to a lot of pure pop. I find most of it pretty bland. But Kesha has something that I don't find in the Ariana's and Taylor's of the world - there's something compelling about her. She's probably done more mature work than this -- I know a lot of people admired her 2017 Rainbow LP, for example -- but this was the one that brought her to the public consciousness, and it's still my favorite album of hers. Best tracks: "Your Love Is My Drug", "Tik Tok".


8. The Sounds - Something to Die For (2011)

We haven't heard much from this Swedish indie rock band since their 2013 Weekend LP, and that's a shame. This album, their best, is chock full of strong, yet often danceable, alt rock. Best tracks: "Dance With the Devil", "Something to Die For".


7. The Magnetic Fields - 50 Song Memoir (2017)

I'll be honest - I was a little nervous on Stephin Merritt's behalf when I first heard he was planning another project of this magnitude (which included 5 discs and 50 songs total, one for each year of his life). I considered much of his work post-1999's magnificent 69 Love Songs released under the Magnetic Fields moniker to be a little sub-par, and I just wasn't sure he was still up to this huge a project. But he proved me wrong, and issued the best Magnetic Fields LP of the last two decades. There are too many winners here to list them all. However, Best Tracks: "Have You Seen It in the Snow?", "A Cat Called Dionysus", "A Serious Mistake".


6. Future Bible Heroes - Partygoing (2013)

What's even better than Stephin Merritt releasing a top-flight new Magnetic Fields album? Stephin Merritt releasing a top-flight new Future Bible Heroes album. As is usual for FBH, this one brings Claudia Gonson back to the forefront as lead vocalist and adds the electronic antics of Chris Ewen, to create a tasty brew of Merritt's humorous material. Best tracks: "Living, Loving, Partygoing", "Keep Your Children in a Coma".


5. Tang - Blood & Sand (2015)

New York's Bonnie Parker and Denny Colt have been playing together for decades now, sometimes as the cover band She-Wolff, and sometimes as the original music trio Tang. They really brought it all together on this excellent 2015 post-apocalyptic metal album. This music will put a hurtin' on ya! Best Tracks: "The 11th Hour", "Holy Terror".


4. Bayside - Vacancy (2016)

Of the four LPs that Bayside released this decade, this one was my favorite. It features all of the things I love about this band -- the driving pop punk guitars, the strong, emotive vocals, and the high-quality songwriting of frontman Anthony Raneri. These guys never disappoint. Best Tracks: "Mary", "Two Letters".


3. Blondie - Ghosts of Download (2014)

Considering that Blondie had their heyday during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I had no idea they had an album this strong left in them for the 2010s. But Ghosts of Download is brilliant. It includes some quality guest stars (such as Beth Ditto of Gossip), some hip-hop and Latin influences, and a track or two that shows that even though lead singer Deborah Harry was almost 70 when this released, she's still a randy little devil. An excellent album by a legendary band. Best Tracks: "A Rose By Any Name", "Sugar on the Side".


2. Foster the People - Torches (2011)

This was the first LP by Los Angeles indie rockers Foster the People, and while they released a pair of quality albums after this one, this is still, to date, their high watermark. This was no mean feat, considering the band was flying high on the release of the single "Pumped Up Kicks", and had to cobble an album together quickly to take advantage of the opportunity. It worked out for them, as Torches turned out to be my top alt rock album of the decade. Best Tracks: "Pumped Up Kicks", "Helena Beat".


1. Nightwish - Endless Songs Most Beautiful (2015)

This album was a revelation for me, as it taught this old dog a new trick - to love the genre of what I like to call epic metal, but is probably more often referred to as symphonic metal. The LP combines operatic female vocals, metal, progressive rock, Celtic influences and epic fantasy imagery into a dramatic and exciting whole. I didn't know music like this was out there, but apparently it is, at least in certain parts of Europe. (These guys are Finnish, but there are other bands out there from Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, etc. who are working in the same genre). Best Tracks: "The Greatest Show on Earth", "Edema Ruh", "Elan".


So there you have it, my Top 20 Albums of the 2010's. Will I still be around, and somewhat coherent in 2030 to make another one of these lists? (Was I somewhat coherent when I made this one?) Who knows. But it was fun to sort this list together.

My work is not yet done, though, as I've told you my favorite albums of the decade, but we haven't talked about songs yet. So give me a day or two, and I'll be back with the first of three lists to tell you about my Top 30 Songs of the 2010s. (Why 30? Because I worked out my best songs list, and it came to about 32. And it was easier to round down than come up with eight more and round up, that's why. OK? Geez, get off my back, you guys.

Anyway, see you in a day or two.