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Story Behind The Setlist: Dashboard Confessional and Thrice @ Honda Civic Tour 2004 – San Jose, CA

There are three things I remember about the Dashboard Confessional, Thrice and The Get Up Kids concert in San Jose, California in 2004:

  • Chris Carrabba stopped the show mid-song and threatened to beat up my friend
  • We missed The Get Up Kids, the band I most wanted to see, due to a speeding ticket
  • A motel bathtub full of alcohol

All other details have been filled in by friend’s memories. It’s good to have friend’s memories corroborate an event like this, because, really, it makes for a very strange story.

Where do we start?

Highway 101 north of San Luis Obispo.

I sat in the back seat of a smelly car full of high school graduates. We were 18 year olds, idyllic in our fresh angst, speeding with the radio loud, bags of Doritos strewn, gas station fountain drinks in hand — all those cliche snacks from youth I’m still waiting to outgrow — we had what seemed a never ending supply.

Socially, I was a man of many cliques. Never a big partier, a little alcohol at a friend’s house, say, but never could I stomach drunkenness or drugs. What I was was morally malleable. This meant I could make a go at any social gathering with decent success. This particular 2004 outing was unique, socially speaking, for merging three disparate friend groups. I had my party friends, my church friends, and my actual friends. I remember sitting in that backseat with the sobering and unmasking feeling that comes with your friends meeting your other very different friends.

Punk, partier, and Christian — on our way in a caravan to San Jose. Ahead of us lay three rooms in a louche motel with alcohol, cigarettes and concert tickets to the 2004 Honda Civic Tour. (more…)

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30

I’m not an anxious person, and I’ve always had an OK self-esteem, but in the slow, quiet moments of my 20s I spent absurd amounts of time concerned about my identity. About not knowing who I was. About not knowing enough. About not getting enough done. About wasting time. About being a fraud.

Now that I’m 30 years old, all I worry about is my back. 

The small of it. See, it hurts more than it used to, mostly in the mornings.

But back to the tepid taming of my flaming identity crisis. The trick I’ve learned — and they don’t tell you this until you turn 30 — is to realize that everybody is having an identity crisis. All the time. We’re all faking. We’re all frauds. We’re all failures.

Fake it till you make it, then, isn’t just a saying, but a proverb. 

I see it printed on every bumper sticker, every t-shirt, every smile, every handshake, every campaign hat, every resume, every Facebook post, every blog. Fake it till you make it.

Give yourself a break

(more…)

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ALBUM REVIEW: Scott Ryan – Object Permanence

Spokane-based alt-rocker Scott Ryan is back with a new EP and a new perspective.

It goes without saying that 2016 has been the year of surprises — some good, mostly bad. Scott Ryan is a good surprise. His new EP, Object Permanence, carries a shape-shifting, retro sound that covers more ground in five songs than most LPs cover in ten.

What’s fresh about Object Permanence is that “retro” doesn’t mean “vintage.” It’s not The Strokes simply recreating the tones of The Stooges or Vampire Weekend channeling the vibrancy of the Talking Heads. It’s more complex than that. Here, Ryan takes pieces of various genres from the past — psychedelic, funk, blues, pop, and indie — and in an impressive, almost encyclopedic fashion, somehow makes these into sounds his own.

The opening track, “Spent” is a bright, vibrant tune that blends pop-rock with a little funk and you can’t help but move your body. Not my favorite song on the album, but that’s because it’s not really my style. I can still respect it, however, for Ryan is a musician’s musician. Instrumentally, the music on this song and throughout the album is savvy and unapologetically technical.

“Perfectly Good Explanation” is also ambitious, both vocally and instrumentally. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, the song manages well to keep your attention (hard to accomplish in today’s culturally-busy society). As a Radiohead fan I can’t help but make comparisons to the tonal atmosphere of Hail to the Thief, as an enigmatic drum track balances a delicate falsetto with a wandering guitar lead. Simply put, “Perfectly Good Explanation” is really cool. (more…)

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ALBUM REVIEW: Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

“It doesn’t have to hurt anymore,” sings Jimmy Eat World on the angelic, swelling new tune, “The End is Beautiful,” and my eyes are also swelling. I’m not crying, I wouldn’t do that. Not here, anyway, in this hipster coffee shop, where tears are strictly reserved for Bon Iver’s latest whatever. Throughout Integrity Blues but especially on “The End is Beautiful,” Jim Adkins’ lyrics fit familiar, like a decade-old pair of jeans that somehow managed to grow along with us.

“You said, ‘However you go, I’ll be cheering you on.
In the end, what’s the difference how it all went wrong?’
Hey, that’s something. The truth is what you believe it is.
It doesn’t have to hurt anymore”

Here’s how I’m choosing to interpret these lyrics:

It doesn’t have to hurt anymore, because Jimmy Eat World (i.e., America’s emo dads) have returned to pluck our heart strings and tell us all it’s not our fault. (more…)

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ALBUM REVIEW: Kevin Devine -Instigator

Prolific songwriters are annoying. You hear about guys like Kevin Devine and you say, “Wow! Can’t wait to get into this,” and suddenly eight years go by and you’ve missed nine albums and two side-projects (see also, Ryan Adams).

Despite some familiarity with his catalogue (mostly the Bubblegum and Bulldozer albums), I fully admit that I should be a bigger fan of Kevin Devine than I am. Here’s my reasoning: 

My name is also Kevin. [√]

I happen to look like Kevin. [√]

I’m a long-time, bitter Brand New fan. [√]

I’ve seen Kevin live three times and he’s always amazing. [√ and √]

What happens is this: I see Kevin Devine in concert, I walk away in awe, and then I listen to his records and come away disappointed. Call it the “Curse of the Great Live Band,” but I find his studio stuff often fails to capture the spirit, energy and vulnerability of what I hear on stage.

There’s also the problem that his recordings sound like crap.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk Instigator (more…)

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Album Review: Taking Back Sunday – Tidal Wave

The biggest myth about Taking Back Sunday is that Tell All Your Friends (2002) is their best record. The truth is that — now on to their seventh studio album — Taking Back Sunday’s best record is the one that you first discovered them with. In this way, they’re like the Batman of post-emo alt rock: Gen Xers prefer Michael Keaton, Millennials have Christian Bale, and Gen Ys have embraced Batfleck. (This Millennial, however, will always choose Keaton).

After the almost-unlistenable Happiness Is (2014), Taking Back Sunday (TBS) have returned with Tidal Wave — an almost-ambitious record. They wanted to do something different here, and good: it’s about time. When TBS dropped the title-track as the first single, fans were left scratching their heads. Is this the Dropkick Murphys or Rancid? Certainly not Taking Back Sunday!!!

The song’s sweaty swagger is absolutely polarizing. Love it or hate it, “Tidal Wave” is a refreshing change of pace from a band who is often lost in their own sound. There are no wrist-slitting break-up lyrics, no overlapping harmonies, no long bridges with massive build ups. Just a gritty, quick and dirty, two-and-a-half minute gut punch. And it’s great fun. Unfortunately, the song is also somewhat of a bait and switch, as Tidal Wave is not the “new-direction” Taking Back Sunday record that its title-track single promises.

Different in the midst of sameness

Instead, the album is one of noncommittal change that quickly succumbs to the bad habits and songwriting ruts that have haunted much of the band’s previous efforts. It’s a tension that influences too much of the record, coloring it mediocre and underdeveloped. (more…)

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Fringe Fest Recap: #Mephistophilis, Add Your Comment Below & More

During opening weekend of the 2016 Rochester Fringe Festival, I helped write, produce and act in an evening of all-new, original, one-act plays titled, “We Wrote One Acts About the Internet, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened Next (WOW!).”

As is obvious by the title, all one-acts were written within the theme of the internet (an idea sparked from long-distance texting with friends Leah Stacy and Pete Wayner, who helped write, produce and act). #MEPHISTOPHILIS was the first to be written, earlier this year over a random weekend in February when I was brave enough to finally turn off Netflix. The story follows Mephistophilis (Meph) — a demon borrowed from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. When the value of souls drastically deflate (due to humanity’s obsession with technology), Meph gets fired from Hell and gets a new job at a women’s shoe store in NYC.

The evening consisted of four plays total:

  • PRODUCT NAME BY PRODUCT COMPANY, written by Kevin Carr
  • #MEPHISTOPHILIS, written by Kevin Carr
  • TERMS & CONDITIONS, concept by Leah Stacy, Kevin Carr
  • ADD YOUR COMMENT BELOW, written by Leah Stacy, Pete Wayner

While it’s always an honor to have your work performed (or, say, even looked at), it’s even better when you produce the performances and both shows sell out. I’d say we were lucky with a good venue. Writers & Books is a small community theater and book store in the heart of Rochester’s arts district. The venue size was perfect — small but not too small, intimate but not awkward.

Due to some last minute snafus we weren’t able to fully stage my longest play, #MEPHISTOPHILIS. This was a bummer. Instead, we opted for a staged reading. This means the cast does their best with my script while sitting in chairs. It’s frightening, really — how transparent a staged reading can be. There is no set design to distract, no lighting, no costume change. (more…)

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This is a Nightmare: Being a ‘Brand New’ Fan in 2016

Rock band Brand New’s infrequent musical output has frustrated fans to no end.

It’s been seven years since Daisy. Ten since Devil and God.

(Let that sink in).

Like an overlapping harmony, longtime Brand New fans lovingly obsess and revoltingly resent the Long Island quartet. I do too. There’s the waiting for new material, there are the mixed messages via merchandise, there is the complete and utter lack of communication (except for, of course, when they have something repurposed to sell).

It’s not uncommon for bands to keep private before releasing new music. The problem is that Brand New dangles the idea of new music in front their fans, but then never delivers. Playing coy for the sake of building interest is one thing. Lying to fans is another thing altogether.

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Brand New is basically the deadbeat dad who missed our birthday party. Seven years in a row.

We forgive them because we love them and we can’t help it.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget— with our insatiable Brand New appetites — that there actually is new Brand New music out there. No full album but singles, live tracks, mastered and reworked demos have all surfaced, both officially and unofficially, over the last couple years. (more…)

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Album Review: Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

You’re sitting on the coastline of a small, uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific. Sand burrows in the creases of your eyes and the corners of your cracked lips. The wind smells of birds. Behind you lie the remains of a small, wooden lifeboat — splintered and upside down; the oar rests upon your lap. An empty 7-UP can visits your feet, rolling up, rolling down, pushed in by the tide and retreating back with it. In the distance is a storm and you wait for its slow arrival, like a train approaching. You smile because you know there is hope in its dark clouds.

This is what it’s like listening to Kevin Morby’s powerful new record, Singing Saw. Put another, perhaps simpler way: it’s good, okay? Really, really good.

The type of good that resonates in the chest and reverberates in the blood. The type of good that sends you searching. The type of good that strands you on an island in the South Pacific.

Before establishing his minimalist and intimate song signature, Kevin Morby first navigated through the busy streets of Los Angeles’ indie music scene (The Babies, Woods). I’m not sure when I first heard the guy, to be honest, but the singer-songwriter’s sophomore album, Still Life, made my 2014 Best-Of List (the song “All of my Life” remains one of my favorite tunes).

Today, Morby has sharpened his sound — Millennial folk to the beat of Beck’s Sea Change and with the drawl of early Dylan. Not to say there isn’t energy lurking behind them calm waves. The first single from Singing Saw, “I Have Been to the Mountain,” punches in with bass, drums, horns, strings, a gospel choir and a guitar effect that can only be described as 1960’s sci-fi. The song is basically a Tarantino film, or say, a Bloody Mary on a sultry day. Recently, it landed on a Pitchfork summer festival mixtape (on the much-coveted leadoff spot of number one). (more…)

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Micro-filming with Adobe Premiere Clip: My life in 4 short videos

About a month ago it occurred to me that I carry a super computer in my pocket. My phone, that is. It’s a smart phone that connects me to the world and offers me every little bit of information from anytime in history, much like a community garden – all knowledge ripe and for the taking. And the phone is powerful. I can pinpoint my friend’s exact real-time location, no matter how far away from me he or she lives. I can record music. I can film movies.

98% of the time I use my phone to check email.

When I want to be fancy, I post a picture to Instagram.

That’s about it.

With fresh eyes, then, (the unlimited potential of my phone revealed to me), a query clobbered my restless mind. What if the ’90s version of myself were to get ahold of an iPhone? What would I have done with it?

Certainly, I wouldn’t have wasted battery power reading stranger’s status updates.

Enter ‘Adobe Premiere Clip’

What if I were to film the most boring moments of my life and then try to make them interesting?

I’m sure there are many movie-making apps available to the mass public. iMovie, for instance, is probably the most popular (I have some familiarity with the desktop version). Adobe Premiere Clip, however, happened to get in front of my face at the right time. This powerful video-producing app allows you to record, edit, add music, adjust tone and color — all from your phone. (more…)

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Story Behind the Setlist: The Swell Season — April 2008, Oakland, CA

My fondest memories revolve around live music.

That statement may mean nothing to you, but to me, it’s everything. See, my memory is not what it used to be. (Of course, how would I know?)

Maybe my memory was always lousy. Maybe I didn’t eat enough pistachios as a kid. I’m not trying to be melodramatic; I don’t think there’s anything medical going on. The truth is that my friends will reminisce, or my wife will remind me of some place we visited a few years back. I will eventually recall, but the memories must be coaxed, primed. It’s like turning a page in a novel with two pages stuck together: I just need a minute to get them unstuck.

But music? Now that’s something my memory can get behind!

SIDE NOTE: My theory is that since everyone around me has always had amazing memories, I never felt it necessary to encode much to long-term. I saved this brain power for much more important things, like charming women and learning guitar.

Concerning concerts, I can tell you who I’ve seen, how many times I’ve seen ‘em, and which song stuck out the most. I can hack any musical memory and transport myself back to the venue, where all of a sudden I’m wearing the moody, black emo-clothing of my high school years, and I’m praying to God that the drunk stranger standing next to me will stop singing so damn loud.

Fair warning: they say every time you access a memory, you alter it. With great trepidation, then, I’m going to go ahead and access a memory for you — a really, really fond memory, one of my favorites — knowing that I might wreck it in the process. Wish me luck.

*Closes eyes, knocks on the door of his mind palace* (more…)

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The X-Files Revival Review: Paranormally Normal Expectations

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m an X-Phile, through and through.

As the name would suggest, X-Philes are a rare breed of entertainment consumers who swear allegiance to the TV show The X-Files. With 201 episodes, we have spent at least 201 hours of our lives watching Mulder and Scully ask the big questions and chase the big, scary monsters. Personally, I’ve seen the original series three-times through, with favorite episodes re-watched here or there, and of course, multiple viewings of the two movies. Realistically, let’s call it 700 hours of my life dedicated to finding Mulder’s stupid sister. Let us not mention The Philosophy of The X-Files book, or the Season 10 comic book series. I also bought the IDM board game.

There’s a simpler word for what I am. It’s called a nerd, and I understand that.

The truth… is that we X-Philes absorbed any and all X-Files we could get, because when the series ended in 2001, the show was over. That was it. Gone. Dunzo. Poof. Like the proof Mulder could never quite attain, The X-Files disappeared, almost as if it were never really there. And remember, TV shows didn’t come back from the dead back then. When they ended, they ended. When they were cancelled, they cancelled. So, we X-Philes became our special class of nerds, quietly holding onto the spooky, nostalgic memories of something that would never exist again.

Until it existed again.

And The X-Files came back. And now my board game, comics and books look less like collector’s items, and more like an obvious case of dork.

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Read my full review on The Farsighted blog: Part One and Part Two