In my usual late-to-the-party fashion, I am still working on my favorite albums of 2011 list (it's a smaller field than 2010 was, but a lot of the albums came out—or I only acquired them—late in the year, so my feelings on a lot of this stuff are still a bit unformed). In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to look back on my 2010 list (which, embarrassingly, is only two posts ago) and see if I still agree with myself.
The redress of grievances
Last week, I went to see Titus Andronicus (along with The Tough Shits and local boys Free Energy) at the First Unitarian Church in Philly. You may recall that I wasn't entirely happy the last time I saw them (last year in Louisville) and I skipped them in favor of the Thermals when they came through Philadelphia this spring. Nevertheless, I headed to this show with some pretty high expectations, based on my ever-deepening love for their latest album, The Monitor. I am happy to report that Thursday's show exceeded even those expectations. They were, in a word, brilliant....
A giant fist is out to crush us
Since returning to the Ancestral Lands, I've taken advantage of being in a major metropolitan area to get out and see some good bands. I've been remiss in not chronicling these shows as they've happened, and at this point, I'm probably not going to bother with most of them. But I did have a few things to share about the Thermals show in Philadelphia back on April 15. I had a bit of consternation over deciding to go to this show because Titus Andronicus were also playing in town the same night. Despite being less than satisfied with my previous Titus Andronicus concert experience, I've been very much digging their new album, The Monitor (while being somewhat disappointed with the Thermals' most recent one, Now We Can See), so it was a tough call to make. However, three facts tilted the balance in favor of the Thermals: (a) I'd never seen them before; (b) Atlanta's all-girl quartet The Coathangers, whom I'd also never seen before, were opening for them; and (c) the show was at the First Unitarian Church, and I needed to see first-hand what has inexplicably become Philadelphia's premier indie rock venue. Anyway, I was thoroughly pleased with my choice. In lieu of a real concert review, I'll just post an email I composed on my phone as I sat, sweat-soaked and ears still ringing, on the PATCO train that took me back across the river after the show. ...
Of beer and bastards
It wasn't looking good for my chances of getting to the Heartless Bastards show in Lexington last night, but thanks to a last-minute babysitting offer from a friend, Sylvia and I were able to make a date of it. Heading out from Morehead after dinner, we skipped the opening act in favor of making a stop at the obscenely huge Liquor Barn at Hamburg Plaza to indulge in a little frivolous consumerism. Besides such difficult-to-obtain-in-Morehead items as decent bread, cheese, and wine, I picked up a couple of promising seasonal beers—Great Lakes' "Nosferatu" red ale (which I am sampling right now: it's pretty damn good) and Abita's "Pecan Harvest" (I'd had a tiny sample earlier this week and was intrigued)—as well as a couple old standybys: DAB and Staropramen.
Friday night lights
We are entertaining a foreign guest, specifically a 14-year-old French girl, at the moment and given how entertainment-challenged Morehead is, we've been racking our brains to find appropriate activities for our youthful ward. Friday night, it fell to me to acquaint her with the "savage ballet" that is American football in the form of a local grudge match between Rowan and Morgan County High Schools. This was the first high school football game I have been to in nearly two decades, basically since my own days as a marching band geek, and it was an unsettling experience. ...
it's not you, it's me
As I alluded to briefly a while back, The Hold Steady played in Louisville on December 9, and by a happy coincidence, I was in town for work that very weekend. The show was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, but while there's little I can fault about the show, it was not the exhilarating experience I'd hoped. The biggest reason for this was that I was just too tired to fully enjoy it: I'd been conferencing for two days already, my arthritis was majorly acting up (thanks to my boneheaded decision to walk from downtown out to Headliners, which seems to be in some sort of outlying industrial district), and I just don't have the stamina for those midnight start times that are a point of pride among the indie hipster set (the two abysmal opening bands I endured to get to that midnight start didn't help either). ...
My blogging colleagues
I recently discovered that two more of my Morehead colleagues are blogging:...
On Wednesday night, I kicked off my Thanksgiving break with a trip to The Dame in Lexington to see the Heartless Bastards. I've been listening to this Cincinnati-based trio for about six months now (here's what I had to say in September), and my appreciation for them continues to grow. It's terrific blues-based rock fueled by the gutsy vocals of Erika Wennerstrom. I was positively giddy when I heard they were coming to Lexington, and the show did not disappoint. It's impossible to write about the Heartless Bastards without mentioning The Voice (i.e., Wennerstrom's). Its presence dominates the music, and in the live setting, it basically becomes a fourth member of the band, especially since it seems impossible that something so powerful could be emanating from as unimposing a frame as hers. Drummer Kevin Vaughn was pretty impressive as well, glowering from behind the set and banging out the snare beats like gunshots. And then there was bassist Mike Lamping, providing the rhythmic glue from a private island of tranquility apparently only he can access. However they manage to put all this together, it works. ...
…is the only word that comes to mind to encapsulate Saturday night's triple bill of Ruby Vileos, Swearing at Motorists, and The Wrens at The Southgate House in Newport. This was my second trip to the Southgate (the previous being Yo La Tengo during their 2004 'Swing State Tour'), and it has already earned a place in my heart for serving up great bands in a great atmosphere. All three bands were of some interest, so here's the rundown.
Our esteemed flagship institution, the University of Kentucky, received funding from the state this past week to support their Top 20 Business Plan, which aims to put UK among the top 20 public research universities by 2020. While I am happy the legislature made higher education funding a priority, and I support the broader rationale for the plan (namely, the connection between quality education and the economic future of Kentucky), my personal assessment of UK's chances of fulfilling their ambitions is, well, zero....
New Orleans bluesman Spencer Bohren, who was on campus last week as an artist-in-residence, did a show Friday night at local coffeehouse Grounds & Sounds (which has been a godsend to Morehead's sparse restaurant and even sparser music scene). This was an exciting event for several reasons. It was the first live music I've managed to see in about a year. I didn't know much about Bohren except that I really liked the free MP3 of "Ghost Train" I downloaded from Playlist magazine a while back, so I was eager to hear more from him. And the show provided the impetus for my wife and I to get a babysitter and go on a much-overdue date....
A few days late (what's new?), but some photos from All Hallow's Eve at our house....
This weekend, we formally marked the beginning of summer by making our first trip of the season to the Judy Drive-in (in nearby Judy, KY). The Judy is one of the hidden treasures of this area, an authentic drive-in experience (it's been in continuous operation since 1952) plunked down pretty much in the middle of nothing. Making your first visit — becoming "Judified" — is something of a rite of initiation within our circle. We like to arrive early with a couple other families and establish a kind of campsite in the front row (lawn chairs, sleeping bags, coolers, the whole bit). The supplies are kind of a necessity, since making a visit is a significant commitment: the movies don't start until dark, so staying for both features means being out well past midnight during high summer. There's enough room to set up a portacrib, though, so our daughter made her first trip when she was under a month old. This weekend was our son's Judification.
The Kentucky blogosphere
This may be surprising to some — it was mildly surprising to me — but ol' Kentuck has a burgeoning blogging scene. Fred Ochsenhirt of KY Blogs is gathering a master list of blogs in the commonwealth (available in a variety of formats through Blogrolling and through an interactive map) and multiblogger Ben Carter is organizing a coalition of democratic bloggers, Kentucky Bloggers for Tomorrow Today. While I was researching my blog workshop earlier this month, I even discovered a podcaster lurking among my colleagues (John Modaff's AlphaAudioBox). That's not bad for a state about which another colleague advised (when we first moved here six and a half years ago), "You have to understand. You aren't in the United States. You're in Cuba."
When recycling goes too far
Currently showing at our one local moviehouse: Meet the Fockers and Ocean's 12. Coming attractions include Bewitched and Son of the Mask. Oh joy. Three pointless sequels (one to a remake of a mediocre 60s film), and a film adaptation of a lame 60s television series. Is anyone in Hollywood capable of having an original thought?
Round these parts, the Kentucky Derby is a Very Big Deal. It's difficult for mere mortals to get near Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, but since everyone and his sister hosts some sort of Derby event, there's no shortage of ways to celebrate the Run for the Roses. Trying to get in the true spirit of things, and also to enetertain a visiting mother-in-law, we headed for Keeneland. In some ways, this was probably better than being at the real event. First, while it poured rain over in Louisville, it was merely overcast in Lexington. Second, the 24,000 people at Keeneland were enough to give one the sense of being at an Event without becoming the absolute madhouse that the 140,000 people at Churchill must have been. As for the actual festivities, what can I say? Bets were placed; money was lost; mint juleps were drunk; "My Old Kentucky Home" was sung; Licia got to ride a miniature pony for about a minute: a jolly time was had by all. ...
A night at the Dame
Jenny Toomey's show at The Dame last night was well worth the hour-plus drive and $8 admission (even if that worked out to approximately a dollar per song). Accompanied by Franklin Bruno on piano (mostly) and Jean Cook on violin, Jenny did a short set alternating songs from 2001's Antidote and 2002's Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno. The Antidote material sounded much better live—if anything, my complaint about that album is that it seems a little overproduced and too "smooth." Live, it was more raw and passionate. The stuff from Tempting—which I was hearing for the first time—is a bit unusual, recalling, dare I say it, classic showtunes more than anything else (the CDDB listing I pulled when I added the album to my iTunes library today classified the album as Easy Listening). But if post-punk indiepop has taught us anything, it's that no style is inherently uncool, and this stuff was definitely not uncool. "Your Inarticulate Boyfriend" deserves a prize just for its delightful title, and the rest of the album maintains a tone of clever but embittered wackiness that is endearing. I would have liked the set to go on all night, but as first openers, Jenny et al. played less than an hour. Since it was a school night, I only stayed for a few songs by Fruit Bats and missed headliners Iron and Wine completely. Given the small sample size, I'll refrain from comments on either.
YLT Concert Review
Despite Ira Kaplan's apologetic comment that the show had not exactly been "rocktastic," Yo la tengo sounded great to me last Wednesday. The show featured mostly songs from their most recent album, Summer Sun, which like its predecessor, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, is certainly in a quieter vein than some previous Yo la albums. And the assigned-seating theater-style venue helped contribute to the feeling that one was at some avant-garde jazz-fusion event rather than a Rock and Roll show. But just when I would start feeling antsy at the electronica-inspired atmospherics, they would switch gears, Ira would lay down some skronk on his guitar, and they were a rock act again. One of the things that occurred to me during the show was how wide-ranging YLT have been stylistically, and how effortlessly they move between styles. It got me thinking that style can be a kind of trap. Perhaps an idea for a future post....