Every year I watch The Tony Awards to hear at least one song from a couple of the new musicals. The year Next To Normal was on it instantly struck me, going on to win best new musical. The soundtrack easily entered my top ten. Finally getting to see the show I can say that the Next To Normal is one of the best I’ve seen. Next To Normal is a family portrait blurred by a heavily medicated mother with psychotic tendencies. The music is loud and the production is in your face. The stage is a multi-tiered structure with moving panels and lots of lighting, was a mixed bag. The scaffolding used for the bones of the set often seem in the way.While the scene transitions are seamless and the lighting is excellently cued. The score permeated with electric guitar and loud drums, but the songs and melodies are almost classic broadway, and will stick with you for days. This touring production has the leads from the Broadway show, which recently closed. Unfortunately the show I saw was Alice Ripley‘s first night back after being out sick for days. Her voice was great at times, when she had to go loud and big it was hard to listen to. Having the soundtrack I knew what it should have sounded like, the rest of the audience left confused. I still loved the show. The rest of the cast was perfect and the story is so strong, I teared up several times during the second act. I will definitely see it again, and would like to see it made into a movie.

A couple of years ago in Portland friends got me tickets to see Crystal Castles at Backspace a tiny coffee shop/performance space. At the time I knew nothing about them. The show was beyond crowded and we couldn’t see a thing, aside from the occasion arm or flap of hair. They sounded alright, their use of low-fi electronics and punk vocals was intriguing  enough for me to get their first album. The album was good, but I never fell in love with it. They released their second album last year, and my opinion of them changed. The second album is all sorts of dynamic and it became one of my favorite bike riding albums.  I knew it would be worth seeing them again when their show at Showbox Market was announced. Unfortunately the show got moved to Showbox SoDo, which is a terrible, terrible venue. Before Crystal Castles came out somebody warned us that Alice Glass had broken her ankle and was told to cancel the tour, moments later the venue went dark and the music started pounding. Because of the warehouse nature of the venue the sound was full of reverb and echo, but that didn’t matter. The light show, the energy from the music, and the ultra excited crowd brought the show to a frenetic level of enjoyment. Most of the time Alice Glass stayed supported by the mic stand, other times she was floating over the crowd kept aloft by the packed house and not missing a beat. They tore through a set comprised mostly from the most recent album, and  amped yet very dark versions of the older songs. I’m not ashamed to admit that I danced my ass off. I look forward to hearing the directions they go in, for such a young group, I expect good things of them.

 

One of my exes introduced me to the brutal sounds of Swans, a band I was ignorant of even though I was so close. They broke up a couple of years before I became aware. Michael Gira, the sonic genius behind Swans, moved on to solo projects and the less epic but more heartfelt Angels of Light. None of which really came close to Swans, which were always about the crushing power of sound. When Gira announced a new version of Swans would record a new album and tour I could only hope they would be able to come close to the original. The album made my best of the year list, even with it lacking the strength of the earlier albums, it has more in common with Angels of Light. Even thought I’ve been able to see Angels of Lights and Michael Gira (solo) several times, I was still online to get tickets for this show as soon as they went on sale. The show was beyond expectations. It was probably the second loudest show I’ve been too, a Mogwai show holds the title still. They opened with a new song that took twenty minutes to get started, a slow throbbing build up the climaxed with such beauty that could never be captured on record. Songs from the new album were played in a manner that was almost unrecognizable and guttingly gorgeous. Large chimes and two drummers took them closer to the original Swans line up and sound. The older songs, at least one from each album, shook the venue and the crowd to the point where we part of the sound. While I doubt we got even close to the experience of seeing the original Swans, I would happily (and eagerly) watch that show over and over.

I was blown away by this show, I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this is their first tour in a very long time. As excited as I was for the show,  I knew it wouldn’t be much to watch.  There would be a bunch of folks (mostly seated) playing subtle music that slowly builds to a frenetic apex, with songs lasting up to 20 minutes. I was a tad worried that Godspeed’s apocalyptic chamber rock sounds great on headphones or lounging at home, but possibly hard to stand through. It wasn’t, they took us to another place for 2 1/2 hours. I mean holy crap do they have their sound together. The set list stretched all their albums, but I have no idea of the songs titles. When they are playing they are one beast, and I could have watched them for days. Do yourself a favor and spend some time with GY!BE

The only other time I saw So Percussion they were playing with Matmos in Portland. I had a good idea what to expect from the show. Working anything that vibrates and makes sound they construct soundscapes with intricate rhythms. So Percussion uses buckets of water, the sound of sharpies writing, hand claps,  as well as drums, chimes and toy pianos to create the highly choreographed and the spontaneous. They played a couple of Steven Reich and John Cage songs, and a few of their own compositions.  Town Hall is not one of my favorite venues, the room is a bit echoey. That echo worked phenomenally well for So Percussion, with every turn of the head the sound changed. A reception was held after the show,  I went mainly for the snacks. It wasn’t too surprised to find my friend Ginger talking to one of the members. I casually snuck in there to ask some questions.  I’ve tried to figure out how they played and processed the cactus that was highlight of last summer’s show and only played briefly at this show, he happily explained the technique, which was super simple. A great show by a group that understands how to manipulate sound.

Looking back at the books I’ve read over the last couple of month, I’m a little ashamed. For the most part they are all frivolous, easy reads. With moving to Seattle in July, and my work being uber-crazy chaotic for several months, serious reading wasn’t what I wanted.

Back in the days when I still had cable I would try to catch Chelsea Lately. Chelsea Handler is show is one of the funniest and honest shows about celebrity and pop culture. We were also fans of her earlier show, the highly entertaining Girls Behaving Badly. Turns out she is a fairly good writer also, her stories are often about drinking and sex and weave themselves into the tale of  her climb to late night success. Chelsea may not have the same memoir writing prowess of  some of her peers, but she does hold your attention and makes you laugh.

Shades of Grey is the start of a new series by Jasper Fforde, and is a hard book to describe. Shades of Grey starts the story of a society where people are judged and categorized  by how well they see certain colors, the government also controls the usage of color as a way of control. This book sets up the concept and introduces the characters that seem poised to lead the revolution and set the colors free. Much like all Jasper Fforde’s other books, I loved it. It’s well thought out with many layers and messages that will probably be the basis of an English class at some point. Hopefully the wait for the next books won’t be  long.

A good book about a family sitting Shiva for the patriarch. Full of colorful characters and will  probably be an indie film soon.

Morgan had never seen The Black Cauldron, although he had read the book  series as a kid, so we watched it a while back. I was the other way, the movie was a favorite when I was a kid, although I did read the Disney book. I thought I would give the series a try. The Black Cauldron is the second book in the series, but the movie is mainly based on The Book of Three, the first book. I didn’t love this book,  and I don’t blame the book.  I’m thinking the reason is we just watched the movie, so I knew all the twists and how it ends. I’ll be picking up the second book at some point, no hurry though.

A surprisingly good book, another look into the rise of another female comedienne. Kathy Griffin‘s book is better than both of the Chelsea Handler books. Kathy has had a rather interesting back story, plus it’s riddled with stories of other celebrities that are often hilarious. A great and very quick read.

Big fan of John Hodgman. Trust me, you’ll enjoy this book.

I put off reading any of the Scott Pilgrim books until all of them were out, then I had to read them all before seeing the movie. I like the series and the movie a whole bunch.

I had to finish the series, and I had to wait for the paperback.  Don’t judge me harshly when I say that I loved the book.

The Hunger Games trilogy, two years in the life of Katniss Everdeen in post-apocalyptic America. I’m not going tell you too much about the books, it’s better that way. They are all great books that suck you in, for me the second book was the best. Looking forward to see how the heck they are going to make them into movies.

I wasn’t trying to become the authority on current female comedienne, it just happened. Morgan was given this for christmas, so I figured I might as well read it. It was alright.