I don’t think anyone really knows how much I nerd out about They Might Be Giants. I was 16 the first time I saw them live, the rest of high school I saw TMBG so many times I lost count. I had a group of friends that would drive all over New England with me, those were some good times. The teenage me became strongly attached to the angst filled obliqueness of the lyrics, they introduced me to the happy sounding sad song. As I got older I grew to appreciate the performance art that their live show can often be. I still hardly pass up the chance to see TMBG.

This year TMBG released two of their best albums in the last ten years and are riding high on the current nerd renaissance. The show at Showbox Sodo was pretty spot on. The recent albums have the sound of the early ones, and the show reflected their renewed enthusiasm. The Johns were  loving it. The set list covered most of their discog, with only a couple of questionable choices. I don’t think that many people really care to hear “Subliminal” or “Snail Shell”, it’s doubtful they are anyone’s favorite songs. Also, I think it is time they retire “Particle Man”, it sounds unfortunately dated, and at this point most people on earth have seen them perform it. The rest of the set list was curated nicely. The chosen new songs were good ones, highlights on “Marty Beller Mask” and a surprisingly good version of “You Probably Get That A Lot”.  “Fingertips” was one of the best versions I’ve seen, and it was awesome to hear “The Guitar” and “Dead” as the second encore.

Subliminal
Can’t Keep Johnny Down
Celebration
Why Does the Sun Shine?
Snail Shell
Fingertips
Old Pine Box
Birdhouse In Your Soul
Damn Good Times
Ana Ng
Battle For the Planet of the Apes
Judy is Your Viet Nam
Withered Hope
Marty Beller Mask
We Live in a Dump
You Probably Get That A Lot
Spoiler Alert
Cloisonne
Alphabet of Nations
Particle Man
Famous Polka
Careful What You Pack
The Mesopotamians
1st Encore
How Can I Sing Like a Girl?
When Will You Die?
2nd Encore
The Guitar
Dead

John Hogdman knows how to host a book reading, he turns them into a variety show, complete with special guests. At Town Hall the other night the guests were all musicians,neo-nerd rock cult hero Jonathan Coulton, Sean Nelson (from Harvey Danger) and John Roderick (from The Long Winters). Also a heckler in the audience turned out to be John Flansburgh, shocking!  He later he walked awkwardly on stage to sing a song I did not recognize, it could be in Hodgman’s new book, That is All, he had it in his hand and opened it at the podium. I only just started it.

John Hodgman has had a bit of a conversion since I last saw him in Portland at Wordstock. Then, he was riding high as a “minor television celebrity”. He was in the Apple ads and on both the Daily Show and Battlestar Galactica. Since then his television presence has waned a bit and he has taken on the persona of a “deranged million” with burgeoning obsessive thoughts about Ragnorok. Hodgman should have a monthly television show, he is and entertainer and born host. He understands how to work a crowd, blending stories about the post apocalypse with one liners and the occasional back and forth with someone in the audience. We felt at home. The musicians would occasionally come out for comic banter and to sing tunes. I was never a Harvey Danger or The Long Winters fan, I only know Sean Nelson and John Roderick as local music guys, that alway pop up around town and in the local newspapers. I didn’t know any of what they played, I still liked what they added to the night. I have seen Jonathan Coulton every time I’ve seen Hodgman, he is a demigod to literary rock nerds, an heir apparent to They Might Be Giants. I think he is fine, very likable, his performance of “Nemesis” with Roderick was one of the best moments of the night.  Hodgman, Nelson, Roderick, and Coulton performing “Tonight You Belong to Me” is what did it for me. That song has become a personal favorite since I heard Patience and Prudence kill it. The evening was so entertaining, it wasn’t until a bit later I realized there was actually very little talk about the book directly. Once I finish the book, I’ll probably connect the dots, he can be a sly one.

I have a history with Pirates of Penzance. When I was young, around 11/12, I had a TV with cable in my room. I am the seventh child, my parents were tired, the TV raised me. I first saw the movie version very late at night, and never got the name. Every now and then I would ask people about a pirate musical, hoping to find the name out. I wasn’t exposed to that many musical folks so it took me years to find out it was Pirates of Penzance, it got easier once the Animaniacs starting spoofing it. I’ve seen the movie several times now, and finally had a chance to see it a production, although slightly different from how I imagine Gilbert & Sullivan envisioned.

You know how on TV shows and in movies they show neighborhood kids putting on a show? It never happened in my town, but I would like to believe that it does. This production was an awesome version of a backyard musical. Produced by STAGEright, it was a risky venture to do an open so flippantly. When we walked into the Freehold Theater half hour before showtime the cast was already lingering about the stage, like hanging out in the school yard. They played hangman with the crowd, broke out into singalongs, and generally played among themselves. Closer to showtime they sang a couple of more organized songs, Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “California Dreamin”. Quietly a man at a piano started playing the overture,  the cast ran back stage and the lights went dim.

The neighborhood kids theme worked, capes made of blankets, a small porch and an a-frame ladder as sets, and the occasional “forgotten” line made the comedic parts of the opera shine. The ensemble of 11 had a tough job, Pirates is usually performed with a cast four times their size. And don’t count out the Gilbert and Sullivan cult, I noticed a large number of people mouthing along the show, they’re worse than the Sondheimites. With only a couple of people playing duo roles, there was almost always a small chorus on stage. The male and female leads were both stellar singers, they filled the room with a presence big enough for broadway. The rest of the cast was a rotating group of larger than life characters, all vying for their time in the spotlight, and just a tad jealous of the mains. Pirates was never the most serious of operas, STAGEright’s addition of some pop cultures references seemed natural, it was genius to include the Arrested Development chicken dances. This was a great show and a lot of fun, so it’s no surprise that the last couple shows are already sold out. I would recommend going anyway and trying to get in, it’s worth it.

 

I did not take this picture, I found it on the interweb. After some research I believe it is from PurplePR Music.

When they announced Bjork’s Biophlia for the Manchester International Festival we already had the tickets to LADOMA, our plane tickets, and some of the trip planned out. The only show we could fit in was on the day we arrived, a short 4 hours after landing. Again Morgan surprised me by saying he would go, not that I wouldn’t have gone by myself.

Biophilia, Bjork’s most recent album (review to come), grew into a multimedia project. Including a series of shows, a book, a documentary and a series of i-pad apps. The brass tacks of the project is to expose the melding of nature and technology to create music. She designed several instruments, stuff like gravity harps and a gameleste. And as if to prove the amorphous nature of her music, Bjork delayed the release date of the album so that she could change the sound so that it reflected the new life the music took on during the festival shows.

The show was at Campfield Market Hall, inside was a medium-sized square stage in the middle flanked by four sets of bleachers. The instruments were set up along the perimeter, one corner for the drum kit (Manu Delago) and one corner for Matt Robertson‘s electronics (including a reactable!). There was a ring of screens over the stage playing DNA/virus like visuals to a playlist of Bjork songs that wouldn’t be heard live that night. We found a spot on the bleachers closest to the drum kit and waited as the hall filled. When the lights went dark the crowd exploded. Bjork and the 24 piece choir filled about half the stage. With the theater in the round format you end up looking at a lot of back, that would be my only complaint about the show. Bjork and the choir did seem to have some loose choreography and did their best to work the crowd.  Bjork sounded great in the venue, the slight echo of the market hall worked for her. The choir added that special etherial element that Bjork’s recordings often have. All the songs of Biophilia were played, some featuring the custom instruments and visuals that, I’m learning now, related to the i-pad app for each song. I was in love from the beginning with the singing tesla coil during “Thunderbolt”. The gravity harp used during “Solstice” was a dramatic way to end the main set. The set also had well curated selection of older songs, “Where Is The Line” and “Nattura” I will never forget.

Setlist:
Thunderbolt
Moon
Crystalline
Hollow
Dark Matter
Hidden Place
Mouth’s’Cradle
Isobel
Virus
Jóga
Sacrifice
Sonnets/Unrealities
Where is the line
Mutual Core
Cosmogony
Solstice
-encore
One Day
Hyperballad
Náttúra

Almost a year ago The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic was announced as part of the Manchester International Festival. A show by Robert Wilson about (and starring) performance artist Abramovic featuring songs by Antony and compositions by William BasinkiWillem Dafoe was cast as the narrator, as a member of The Wooster Group he is no stranger to the avant-garde, and he was in Animal Factory with Antony years ago. After they added Matmos to the orchestra pit this turned into my dream team of performance theater.

I flippantly asked Morgan if he would be up to making a trip surrounding this show, and was a bit flabbergasted that he said yes. So I got us tickets and that began the planning of our trip to northern England, this show was on the fourth day of our trip. Before the show we met up with a group of friends from JustOneStar for a couple of drinks. There was a lot of catching up and it was my first time meeting most of them face to face, it was a great time. LADOMA was being performed at The Lowry, a performance art space in the Salford Quays. The theater was on the smaller size and our seats were on the balcony slightly left of center. On the stage already were three women laying in death poses while a few dogs wandered about the stage. They stayed there motionless while people filled the theater and the lights went dark very slowly. The show is a biographical account of Abramovic’s life and performances, while not linear, the show had a storyline. A scene with Abramovic playing her mother punishing a young Marina leads into a live snapshot of a related performance she did. All the transitions were not so obvious, the scenes and pictures were slowly built and created with a subtlety and tension that never strained the beauty. Written by Robert Wilson there was little dialogue on stage, the narrator handled most of the storytelling. Still being alive didn’t stop Wilson from writing Abramovic’s death scene (pictured above). I didn’t take that picture, I found it on the interweb.

The vocals were a knife used to cut thought the sweeping tonal music scored by Basinski. Antony wrote all the songs used in the show except for one, Snowy AngelBaby Dee gets the credit there. Antony only sang a couple of the songs, and they were gorgeous. From where our seats were it was like he was singing directly to us.  Antony is able to get into you and make you feel, Morgan now understands that Antony is something special. I heard him tell someone he loved Antony in it! The other voice in the show was Svetlana Spajic, a Serbian folk singer. Her voice has an elegant shrillness that wrapped around Antony’s. Abramovic and Dafoe both sang one song each, both near the end of the show. They are not strong singers, they sang in a droll manner that worked to convey a fear of the imminent end.

The show was beyond impressive, every moment is completely thought out and executed perfectly. The show sporadically  touring for the next couple years, I would easily see it again.

I know it’s been a while and I have some catching up to do. The  last few months have been a lot of working, leading up to a trip. This summer we took off to Northern England, visiting Manchester for some shows at the Manchester International Festival (the shows will get their own posts). After five days in Manchester we went further north into Scotland, spent a few days in Glasgow and a week in Edinburgh. This is a small collection of photos from our trip. These are meant to be a teaser, to see the full collection have us over for dinner. We have hundreds of pictures, many are better than the one’s I’ve chosen to post here.

This was at our first stop at a atm in Manchester, these drawings of celebrities were everywhere.

One day trip we took was to see Chatsworth House outside of Sheffield. The train ride up was crowded, I sat next to a charming old woman going north to visit her ailing auntie. She was in her seventies and couldn’t have been cuter.

Chatsworth is the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The family still live in part of the house, the rest of the house is a museum for the family’s collection of stuff. There were lots of paintings, ornate beds, and painstakingly painted and decoupaged wallpaper. Also lots of books, dishes, and for some reason thousands of geodes. When I look back at the house now I mostly remember this giant chandelier made of deer heads.

The gardens of the house is where you want to be. The grounds double as the family’s sculpture garden. Winding paths take you from pond to flower patches, to rocky water features. It was sort of dream of mine to walk a real english garden hedge maze. Thanks to the little girls that helped us find the center, and your grandfather was very nice to us on the way out.

We stayed in Manchester for five days, but only spent two days there. We spent our first day wandering around the city, a large part a which is devoted to a massive mall called the Arndale. So we spent a lot of time shopping, where I bought my first (of five) jacket of the trip. The last time we were in England I fell for british jackets. This time I saved up.

The Salford Quays, a waterfront development area, is where we spent another day. The British War Museum, the new BBC Studio and the arts center The Lowry are the big draws. We went there because later in the day we would be seeing a show at The Lowry. Weirdly, this is all located next to a large discount mall. We started our day with Harry Potter at the theater in the mall. The theater was empty, just a couple of families, so the excitement level was down. It was the day after it opened, we were hoping for a crowd full of anticapation. And I will never forget the large soda stain just left of center screen. Loved the movie and have already seen it again. The War Museum was diverting, the BBC Building was nice and the free part of the Lowry was cool. The building below is The Lowry, where people were ziplining for charity.

After Manchester we took the train to Glasgow, it was suppose to be a stopover for our trip further north. We had a few hours to kill so we took a double-decker bus tour. Unfortunately while on the bus a massive downpour happened, which then flooded the train station and all the trains were cancelled. Stranding us in Glasgow. After some wandering around found a room at the Millennium Hotel in the center of town. We stayed in Glasgow for two days. We did a lot of walking, it’s a very pretty city. Lucky for us we found The Two Figs at the start of Byres Rd, we both had killer burgers. We never did find Belle & Sebastian.

We spent a good part of a day walking around places designed by Charles Renne Mackintosh. While taking a touring of The Lighthouse, I fell in love with the roof tops of Glasgow.

We really liked Glasgow, but we couldn’t wait to get to Edinburgh. Our bed and breakfast in Edinburgh was near the university, our first night we walked around the neighborhood. It was much like any college neighborhood here in the U.S.  The closest place to our B&B was the Salisbury Arms , a gastro-pub that had just opened. This is where I had my first Veggie Haggis, it set the bar high, it was delicious.

We’ve planned this trip for a very long time, Morgan did the bulk of the work. I knew very little about Edinburgh. I was blown away by how beautiful the city was. Walking into the city on a foggy morning was the right way to meet Edinburgh.

The second veggie haggis was at Henderson’s, a vegetarian café near downtown. It was tasty but not even close to the first one. And I don’t understand the currants on top. By the way, the currants were perfectly ripe and sweet, we saw them all over Scotland.

The fog cleared and the sun was out for our trip to the Botanical Gardens. It wasn’t peak season for the gardens but there was still plenty to see. We talked to people about plants and walked around the many greenhouses where the main attraction of the gardens are The Giant Victoria Water Lilies. These were pretty impressive, some about 8 feet wide with 3-4 inch spikes on the underside.

As part of our research for our trip we watched many travel shows about Edinburgh. Anthony Bourdain introduced us to the chef Tom Kitchin. One of the first things Morgan did when he was planning the trip was to make a reservation at his Michellin starred restaurant The Kitchin. We had a delicious seven course menu made with locally sourced ingredients. Everything was very tasty, but overly fussy. The restaurant felt super formal, we never felt we could relax. Still it was a good meal, and afterwards they brought out to the bar for petit fours, I had the Oban 10 year, Morgan had one of the few decent cups of coffee we had on this trip.

We decided to take a bus tour of the highlands, and did our best to ignore the 8 hour duration. Our bus had one family, the staff of an indian restaurant, and another gay couple from Italy or Brazil (?) Pitlochny was the first stop, most of the group went to the shops. Morgan and I took the walk to see a fish ladder and a dam. On the walk we finally got a close look at a purple flower that we saw all along the train tracks. We found out after we got back that it’s called the rosebay willowherb, and it is an invasive species. It seems we gave them willowherb and they gave us scotch broom.

The Scottish highlands were amazingly beautiful and so worth the long time spent on the bus. I am purposely not posting the best picture, you need to see it.

The last stop of the tour was a photo-op with a highland cow. His name is Hamish.

Morgan and I love walking farmers markets. Edinburgh’s was on the smaller side, yet filled with a great selection of goods with a focus on local sea foods and meats. I wish I could have that bread now.

Edinburgh is perpetually beautiful, so much so it hurts the eyes at times. So jealous of the people who live there.

Being big Harry Potter fans we had to go to the Elephant House. This picture if from the café where JK Rowling wrote the first book. Edinburgh Castle on the hill was the inspiration for Hogwarts.

Morgan is a master at vacation planning now. I am so grateful for his guide-book reading, that’s how he found a meandering walk from the twisting roads of New Town to the Modern Art Museum. A surprising amount of nature in the middle of the city. Morgan is pointing to a sculpture of a man, it was the first of several signs that we were getting closer to the museum, which was closing right as we got there.

Our last full day was a very quick trip to York, we were only there for about 3 hours. We carried on our tradition of taking the double-decker tour bus with audio commentary, I would recommend them in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but not the one in York. Once we got off the bus and wandered around we found the charm, it was at the end of many twisty roads.

Our last meal was at a pub on the Royal Mile suggested by our b&b host recommended so that Morgan could have local pub fare style haggis, and yes, the pub also had veggie haggis. Turns out Edinburgh is a great place for a vegetarian.

This is Gerry, he was the host at the Gil Dun Guest House. He made us feel so welcome and gave us the best restaurant tips. I wish everyone could have a meal at that chinese place run by a very eccentric woman who worked the room telling stories and protecting people from allergies.

When I was a kid, probably around 8 or 9 I had a walkman and two tapes, Culture Club‘s Colour By Numbers and DEVO‘s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!. I’ve known all my life that I had to see DEVO, something I can now cross off my bucket list. And it unintentionally became a date night for Morgs and I, dinner, shopping and a show. We got to the show about half way through The Octopus Project‘s opening set. They were pleasantly tolerable, mostly instrumental new wavey psych with a theremin thrown in every now and then.

After a montage of their music videos DEVO took the stage dressed like the grey hornet, I became a total fan boy. They played all the major hits and many of the fan favorites. They were loud and played just as fast. Mark Mothersbaugh‘s voice sounded older but just as urgent and rallying. Throughout the show they changed into costumes from their pasts, and did their best to keep the energy up.

I’m thinking this is like a secret final tour, because the show had a very “greatest hits” feel about i, it wasn’t cohesive. For the most part their musicality showed no age, yet there were several awkward moments where they seemed unrehearsed. My last negative comment is that the order of the song in the set list could have been better, and the last song was a terrible choice. Overall I loved the show, but left somewhat unsatisfied.

The Set List

Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)
Peek-a-Boo
What We Do
Going Under
Fresh
That’s Good
Girl U Want
Whip It
Planet Earth
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones cover)
Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
Uncontrollable Urge
Mongoloid
Jocko Homo
Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
Gates of Steel
Freedom of Choice
Beautiful World