October 9, 2009

The Power of Failing: San Francisco Giants 2009

Oh, to be a Giants fan. Charles M. Schulz of Peanuts fame knew this heart ache. Schulz moved to the Bay Area in 1958, following the Giants the same year of their move from New York. In his lifetime, he experienced only two World Series visits, one of which was immortalized in a December 22, 1962 strip in which Linus and Charlie Brown are looking disappointed, only for Charlie to break the silence in the last panel with "Why couldn't McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?" Charlie Brown lived the predicament that the Giants are consistently finding themselves: just a little bit more.

Such is 2009.

The Giants secured their first winning season since 2004, but were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of September. After leading the Wild Card race, they finally gave way to the streaking Colorado Rockies and ended up four games back for the Wild Card slot.

It was a good year, but "just a little bit more." Pablo "Kung-fu Panda" Sandoval led the team with 21 home runs. I know that AT&T Park is pitcher friendly, but you can't tell me that letting a Molina brother hitting 16 homers be your second highest home run hitter is acceptable! Thank God for the pitching because we scored a whopping 657 runs in 162 games. By contrast, those bastards from Los Angeles scored 780 runs and the Cardinals scored 730. If that staff had some run production behind it, it could be even more epic!

And that's been the story since the sport basically told Bonds to go fuck himself and we attempted to airbrush him out of the annals of Giants history. No go to run producer is really of no help.

So, yep, 2009, another year of just not enough. Welcome to Charlie Brown land, America.

October 4, 2009

St. Vincent Review 10/1/09

Beautiful nights in a beautiful city call for a beautiful soundtrack and St. Louis got just what the proverbial doctor ordered when the amazing Annie Clark of St. Vincent and Champaign, Illinois band Elsinore performed at The Firebird on October 1st.

It's easy to be apprehensive going into a show where you don't know much about a band that's performing, however, Elsinore made their case for everyone to relax and have a great time. The band claims to have been in the recording process of their forthcoming album Yes Yes Yes for 28 months, which in my humble opinion is a bit too long. Why, you ask? Because that was time wasted they could have been gaining more fans; but not to worry, they are certainly ready for more demanding audiences and shouldn't have a tough time making fans out of...anyone.

Photo courtesy of Jason S.

Elsinore was no holds barred, churning out their own notable mix of dreamy rock and bouncy, crunchy pop. Of course, I feel like you can't mention Elsinore and not mention their lead singer, Ryan Groff, and his hair. To be exceedingly cliché, everything about this quintet can not be easily judged by their collective covers. The group was as genuinely surprised at their reception, just as the audience was to giving great attention through their set. They put the crowd in a great move as they moved flawlessly from one song to the next, right up to when they performed a cover of The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight". While some may say that's a lofty goal, they made sure to nail it to the wall and make sure everyone was thoroughly rocked.

As The Firebird continued to fill out, joy and giddiness seemed to be bubbling over the crowd; as Annie and her band mates took the stage, Ms. Clark taking a few fleeting moments to insert ear plugs, the consequential happiness spilled out of every pore. Anticipation then took over as she opened with "Marry Me" from her 2007 release of the same name. Sometimes it's difficult to envision how a show will go based on the opening, surprises tend to unearth themselves in the strangest of fashions, but as Annie and her guitar rollicked across the stage it was easy to tell it would be a great night. After a wicked display of jazzy guitar and blues-like soul, Annie moved into newer material, including "The Strangers" and "Save Me From What I Want" just to name a few.

Photo courtesy of Louis K

As Annie exclaimed to the audience early on that she was "flummoxed by your enthusiasm" and was "very, genuinely happy" to be there, her jazz combo/watered-down orchestral pit of four exited the stage to give way and make room for solo Annie. As a soloist, vulnerability is inevitable, but Annie tore up her take on her cover of The Beatles' "I Dig A Pony" and in the process bared her soul more than I've ever seen anyone do before; and by soul I don't mean that spiritual and immortal thing, but the genre of music made highly popular in the 1950's. The abrupt and spastic blues riffs filled the air as she perfected the cover; guitar and vocals wailed together in perfect unison, and just as she started the song, she seemed to be crooning toward the end.

The band joined her back on stage for "Now Now", amidst the twinkiling and complicated guitar pattern she began to play before they arrived. She then moved to the eerie and moving "Marrow" from this years release, Actor and closing out the first round with another newer song "Just The Same But Brand New".

Photo courtesy of J. Stoff

Of course, you can't just leave your audience hanging, though they waited with baited breath for everything she did all night, and she came back to treat the audience with a solo version of "Paris is Burning". One particular fan continually pleaded for her to "PLAY MARRY ME!", "MARRY ME? PLAY IT!", whereupon Clark, explained the old saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and she complied most handsomely. "The Party" was next up in the encore and it quickly lulled the audience into a warm sense of the end to come. St. Vincent rounded out the night with "Your Lips are Red" and got the audience to get their fill of the awesome right before the lights came up. The start and stop anxiety of the whole set was culminated by the final song and the audience, though surely wanted more, left amongst the sounds of textured guitar, violin and woodwind-y atmospheric madness. Another thing the audience left with? Pure fulfillment. There was never a dull moment throughout the set and St. Vincent never failed to impress all night long, even after when they stuck around to speak with admiring fans.

All in all, one of the best shows in the past five years. If you missed this one, I feel very very sorry for you.

On to the next!

-Marry Me
-The Strangers
-Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood
-Save Me From What I Want
-Actor Out of Work
-Dig a Pony (Beatles cover) (Solo)
-Black Rainbow
-Now Now
-Just The Same But Brand New

-Paris is Burning (Solo)
-The Party
-Your Lips Are Red

October 3, 2009

What is it about NYC?

The closest I've ever been to New York City is the Syracuse Hancock Airport. So you have to forgive me for wondering why so many artists feel the necessity to uproot from the towns they call home to move to New York City.

I understand that New York City is a massive cultural hub not just for the United States but for much of the world. Artists move to New York City or one of it's many boroughs in attempt to "make it" in their respective medium. America is a nation of immigrants and so much of our history is based upon migration from one direction (usually the East) to another (the West), acting as a type of pressure release valve that prevented so much unrest in the old world from occurring here. With no more West to win, major migration has been to major urban centers like New York City.

Look at a band like Grizzly Bear. At least half the dudes in that band are from the West Coast. But they find themselves in NYC. Former Record Machine artist, Cheyenne, relocated to New York City from Norman, Oklahoma.

The question that's always been paramount in my mind is whether or not some people can create art in a vacuum, or, outside of the influence of other artists, or if their own vision is intrinsically tied to being around other people who light a flame inside of you. Some bands are forever associated with their community, like Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips. Wayne Coyne still lives in the same neighborhood he grew up in. The Replacements are as synonymous with Minneapolis as Husker Du and Prince are. Hell, St. Louis has Nelly trolling around the suburban Lake St. Louis community.

So does moving to "the Big City" make it that much easier for musicians to craft their art or is it some kind of artistic diaspora in some vain, fleeting attempt to "make it"?